‘My illusion is to have something to transmit. If I can’t change the world, at least I want to change the way people look at it’
With gestural sweeps of his spraycan, Antoni Tàpies creates an inscrutable calligraphic form; featuring his characteristic cruciform ‘T’ icon and applied to a deeply textural sandy surface, the black glyph appears as if graffitied on a battle-scarred wall. Below, this ground has been gouged away to reveal a painted dark red sublayer, which takes the shape of a spilt glass of wine. Replete with the artist’s distinctive mural magic, Grafisme takes the wall as a site of incision, inscription and excavation; like the mythic scrawls of Cy Twombly, Tàpies’ mark-making gestures to layers of history and thought through its rich physicality. The work is a meditative, reliquary zone, its earthbound ochre plane echoing some archaeological artefact or ancient symbolic object. With the inclusion of the toppled wine-glass Tàpies shies away from full abstraction, bringing a playfully drunken edge to work that has often suggested the violence of the Civil War and Catalan nationalist conflicts inscribed on the Spanish streets where he grew up. As the critic John Russell wrote in 1969, these works seem ‘to have been not so much painted as excavated from an idiosyncratic compound of mud, sand, earth, dried blood and powdered minerals’ ( J. Russell, quoted in W. Grimes, ‘Antoni Tàpies, Spanish Abstract Painter, Dies at 88,’ The New York Times, 6 February 2012). Enthralling in its evasive and enigmatic semiotic aura, Grafisme exists at the enticing edge of legibility, standing testament to Tàpies’ material and metaphysical mastery.