Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies is not that well known in the US. I got to know his work when I was living in Madrid. And I’ve been a fan ever since.
He passed away last February at the age of 88. The Instituto Cervantes in New York screened a documentary on Tàpies by the Spanish filmmaker Eusebio Lázaro (also known from television: Cuéntame Cómo Pasó).
The documentary is from 2009 and was shot only about a week after Tàpies got a pacemaker. It brings a very intimate portrait of the painter, who at that time was clearly still weak. He says that the operation, as minor and routine it is, always means a traumatic intervention.
The film is not a question and answer interview. Not at all. It’s a conversation and flow of thoughts with renowned art critic Dore Ashton. It allows plenty of silent moments and close-ups of the artist.
Tàpies is a master of symbols, of images from deep within, connected to the earth, very raw and authentic.
He describes himself as very sentimental. We see a vulnerable person, for whom words are not enough, for whom words are often unnecessary. In this sense he puts everything in his paintings, his paintings being the message that he wants to bring.
He says that with his works he wants to achieve a change in the viewer, which can be a very difficult thing to do.
When asked what he exactly means with a specific work, he sometimes admits that he just doesn’t remember, that it has been made some time ago.
His symbols and messages are never ironic, a big difference with most American artists. Religious symbols are not used as critical observations of the religion itself, but embody the more universal and mystical meaning of the same.
Tàpies says that his painting is not left to chance or coincidence. Every line or graphic form is well intended and never randomly put on the canvas. Their place is always well thought about.
Antoni Tàpies had a long and fructuous career. Good for us.
I think his work will be timeless.