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Quatre quadrats grisos sobre fons marró, 1959

Four Grey Squares on a Brown Background, 1959
Painting, 195 x 170 cm

At the beginning of the 1950s, Tàpies adopted an Informalist, abstract style, based on the explorations of pictorial material as an expressive artistic medium. Imposing matter over form, he began using new artistic materials such as sand, marble dust or coloured earth. These works, the so-called ‘matter paintings’ were heavily influenced by scientific studies on the constituent elements of matter, of atoms and subatomic particles. Tàpies understood that these scientific studies, especially those relating to physics, forced us to ‘change our conception of the world, and naturally, for an artist or a writer who wants to deepen his knowledge of reality, it’s essential to keep in mind these scientific advances’.

Not only did Tàpies start using uncommon materials but during the fifties he also began to use heavy coats of paint, with scratches or incisions that recall eroded surfaces, radically different from the art being made at that time. The artist has explained: ‘This taste for specific materials, different from the common ones, was also a result of my opposition to the official art of that time, those artworks coming out of the academies, or Post-Impressionism, which was popular in my city then. Obviously, I found that type of art repugnant and I expressed it with the use of irregular materials.’1 Furthermore, Tàpies was interested in oriental philosophy and its emphasis on material reality, in the identity between nature and man. All these influences, as well as his earlier Surrealist affinities, converged in these works of multiple interpretations where the importance lies not with the quality of the texture or even the colour but rather the form that the material and imprinted signs attain.

Tàpies started his artistic activity during a long convalescence. He studied Law at the University of Barcelona but he soon abandoned these studies and dedicated himself to his passion for drawing and painting, and he is essentially a self-taught artist. During the 1940s, Tàpies developed a very personal, Surrealist artistic style, and along with other young artists and intellectuals he founded a group around the magazine Dau al Set. Max Ernst, Joan Miró and Paul Klee were significant influences during this early phase, and some of the magical, dreamlike characteristics appearing in his works during this time continue to be found in his later works. Thus, mysterious spaces, invaded by boxes and doors will find continuity in the doors and windows of his matter paintings. It was toward the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies that the artist began to interest himself by the world of everyday objects as a source of artistic inspiration. However, during the eighties specialists perceive in his production a return to the ‘pictorial’: in his paintings the material becomes more fluid, transparencies are used and colour is more luminous.

1El tatuaje y el cuerpo. Antoni Tàpies conversaciones con Manuel Borja-Villel. Barcelona: Ediciones de la Rosa Cubica, 2005.

Technical details

Original title:
Quatre quadrats grisos sobre fons marró
Registration number:
0592
Artist:
Tàpies, Antoni
Date created:
1959
Date acquired:
1997
Status:
On display
Fonds:
MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council long-term
Object type:
Painting
Media:
Marble dust, sand, pigment latex on canvas sized on wood
Dimensions:
195 x 170 cm (height x width)
Room:
Meier Building, Level 1, Rooms 3 and 4
Credits:
MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council long-term
Copyright:
© Comissió Tàpies, VEGAP, Barcelona
It has accessibility resources:
No

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

For more information on the work or the artist, please consult MACBA's Library. To request a loan of the work, please write to colleccio [at] macba.cat.

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One always arrives to at something which one can no longer depict.
Dieter Roth