Antoni Tàpies was a self-taught painter and sculptor from the Catalonia region in Spain, who is best known for his abstract works in the 1950s. Tàpies would create a thick base layer and incorporate unconventional materials into his works, such as marble dust, chalk, and sand. The combination of earthy materials and along with finishing the paintings with etchings and lacerations, resulted in a mixture of texture and grit. The paintings, otherwise known as the “matter paintings” were a symbolic gesture of “the emptiness and fullness which reveals the meaning of nature.”

Tàpies, Antoni. Grey and Green Painting. 1957. Oil paint, epoxy resin and marble dust on canvas. Tate Modern, London.

According the the Tate Modern Museum in London, Tàpies “was fascinated by the contrast of different materials.” In his works, Tàpies created impressions of actual items. Art historian Manuel Borja-Villel explains that by using unexpected materials and rich textures, the artist implies that, “it is no longer a question of representing ideas in a neutral medium but rather that from now on the observer should first perceive a medium expressing an idea.”

Tàpies, Antoni. Space. 1956. Latex paint with marble dust on canvas. MoMA, New York City.

The surreal and somber paintings are influenced by the artist’s upbringing in Spain where he saw the destruction form Civil War and oppression under General Franco. Tàpies wrote in one of his essays that, “the artist is like the mystic: each one acts in his own way but their common purpose is to achieve the inner illumination that enables them to perceive the depths of reality.”

Tàpies, Antoni. Grey Relief on Black. 1959. Latex paint with marble dust on canvas. MoMA, New York City.