ANTONI TÀPIES (1923-2012)
ANTONI TÀPIES (1923-2012)
ANTONI TÀPIES (1923-2012)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
ANTONI TÀPIES (1923-2012)

Gris Oliva (Olive Grey)

ANTONI TÀPIES (1923-2012)
Gris Oliva (Olive Grey)
signed 'tàpies' (on the reverse)
oil and sand on canvas
77 x 51 1/2in. (195.6 x 130.8cm.)
Executed in 1962
Galerie Stadler, Paris.
Private Collection, Liège.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 28 June 1990, lot 49.
Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
A. Agustí (ed.), Tàpies: The Complete Works, Volume 2: 1961-1968, Barcelona 1990, p. 490, no. 1239 (illustrated, p. 186).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Gris Oliva (Olive Grey) (1962) is a poetic example of Antoni Tàpies’ revolutionary ‘matter paintings.’ At almost two metres tall, the work has a human scale and a weighty, almost archaeological presence, like a slab of weathered wall. The khaki-coloured surface has a coarse, mineral texture. Sand has been mixed into the oil paint and scattered across it like gold dust, throwing ghostly outlines and ridges into relief. Canvas margins and embossed banks of pigment frame the central space, creating the further impression of a window or threshold. Evocative and enigmatic, Gris Oliva is exemplary of Tàpies’ practice, which sought to inspire meditative contemplation through humble, everyday materials, and to bear witness to the historical tumult of twentieth-century Spain. Created in 1962, the work stems from a period of rising international acclaim for the artist, whose first retrospective exhibitions opened at the Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Kunsthaus Zürich that year.

Tàpies was born in Barcelona in 1923, and was exposed to public life at an early age through his father, a prominent lawyer and Catalanist. Like many of his works, Gris Oliva is reflective of the Civil War and Catalan nationalist conflicts of the 1930s, whose violence was inscribed on the streets where he grew up. By the time he was a young man, the ancient walls of Barcelona, scarred and cratered by decades of discord, had become analogues for a suffering civilisation. Conjuring beauty from the rubble, Tàpies forged a new, elemental conception of reality in his works, aiming to awaken the senses and subconscious through the esoteric language of the wall. His humanist approach represented continual defiance throughout the years of the Franco dictatorship, which lasted until 1975. Beyond their social context, works like Gris Oliva also explore profound ideas about the relationship between matter, time and spirit. ‘A picture is nothing,’ Tàpies asserted; ‘it is a door that leads to another door ... The truth we seek will never be found in a picture: it will only appear behind the last door that the viewer succeeds in opening by his own efforts’ (A. Tàpies, quoted in Tàpies, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1995, p. 36).

Aged seventeen, Tàpies almost died from a heart attack caused by severe tuberculosis. He spent two years reading widely as he convalesced, developing his interests in art, psychoanalysis, modern science, Eastern mysticism and Existentialist and Romantic thought. Abandoning a degree in law, he turned towards painting in the years following his recovery, experimenting with primitivist mark-making and—in a foretaste of his mature practice—mixing dense compounds of oil paint and chalk. His early inspirations included Paul Klee and the elder Catalonian artist Joan Miró, whom he met in 1948 and became a lifelong friend. That same year, Tàpies co-founded the magazine and collective Dau al Set (‘The Seven-sided Die’). This group of painters and poets were closely affiliated with Surrealism, particularly its embrace of magic and the occult as a way of charting the hidden life of the soul.

After his first solo exhibition in Barcelona in 1950, Tàpies spent a period living in Paris. He met Pablo Picasso in his studio there the following year, and also visited Belgium and Holland. These encounters sharpened his sense of the political and philosophical problems confronting artists throughout Europe. In 1953 he travelled to New York on the occasion of his first show at Martha Jackson Gallery, where he became acquainted with the new pictorial spaces of American Abstract Expressionism. Inspired, he created his first ‘matter paintings’ on his return to Barcelona, blending paint with media such as sand, resin and marble dust before gouging and marking the resulting surface. In Gris Oliva, lines and loops are marked in faint sgraffito. A shadowy lattice might echo the iron grille of imprisonment, or the silhouette of stretcher bars behind the canvas.

At a time when gestural painting prevailed on both sides of the Atlantic, Tàpies both drew upon and departed from Abstract Expressionist and European Art Informel ideas. The scuffs, blemishes and incisions he made on his stuccoed and stony ‘walls’ created the look of human history—the wear and tear of everyday life, and the passage of conflict—in a way that merged the mystical, lyrical and surreal strains of Informel with a form of poignant social realism. Gris Oliva’s scrawls, spectral structures and timeworn patina are emblematic of these works, whose power is at once earthy and metaphysical. Developing his youthful interest in dreams and the supernatural, Tàpies sought to incorporate mystery into his work, even as his materials functioned to keep his work firmly grounded in day-to-day reality. Gris Oliva invokes layers of time, resonating with romance, melancholy and motion. From its burnished details to its chiaroscuro silhouettes, this wall seems no inanimate relic but a living, breathing surface.

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