'I was obsessed with materiality...the pastiness of phenomena which I interpreted using thick material, a mixture of oil paint and whiting, like a kind of inner raw material that reveals the “noumenal” reality which I did not see as an ideal or supernatural world apart but rather as the single total and genuine reality of which everything is composed'
(A. Tàpies, ‘Memoria Personal’, in M.J. Borja-Villel, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona 1990, p. 32).
With its sculptural, almost claylike appearance, Antoni Tàpies' Black Composition presents a rich, tactile terrain, articulated by deep scars scratched into its thick swathes of impasto. Executed in 1956, the same year that Tàpies had his first solo show at Galerie Stadler, Paris, the work is situated in a critical moment in the artist’s career. It represents an early example of the so-called ‘matter paintings’ that positioned Tàpies as a pioneer of Art Informel in Europe. The thick oil impasto and the grainy texture of the work – achieved by the addition of sand to the paint – bear witness to Tàpies’ fascination with the material presence of the art object, which embodies a vital and indeed spiritual physicality. In attempting to convey the mystical properties inherent in all matter, Tàpies drew inspiration from the physical scars of the Spanish civil war on the walls of Catalan houses in his native Barcelona. In Black Composition, Tàpies transfers these lacerations on the skin of the canvas, creating a surface that trembles with the raw energy of human trace. The pastiness and thickness of the ochre-coloured paint cluster, built up in the lower half of the canvas on an austere dark background, is incised with violent and irregular cuts. Just below an agglomerate of white plaster seems to crumble away in parts like a piece of rubble on a worn out brick wall, a witness to the passing of time and the marks left by human presence.
Black Composition is, in this sense, not only a manifestation of its materials and of the process of its making, but also of the innate mystery of signs hidden in everyday reality. As he has explained, 'I was obsessed with materiality...the pastiness of phenomena which I interpreted using thick material, a mixture of oil paint and whiting, like a kind of inner raw material that reveals the “noumenal” reality which I did not see as an ideal or supernatural world apart but rather as the single total and genuine reality of which everything is composed' (A. Tàpies, ‘Memoria Personal’, in M.J. Borja-Villel, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona 1990, p. 32). Tàpies describes these mural imageries as memories of his youth when he lived enclosed within four walls during the time of war. In the process of rendering the physical presence of his hometown, the artist replaces the brushstrokes with gestural traces, with signs acting as a sort of urban graffiti that do not surrender to the violence of any regime, but do witness the resistance and the fight for freedom and individuality of a community at wartime. However, the plastic substance and political agency of the art object have a mystical counterpart. Tàpies in fact believed in the power of matter to convey otherworldly secrets; the dust the surface of Black Composition is permeated with becomes the symbol of the earth which gave us birth and to which we will return. This mystery is something that cannot be told, but only shown through the accumulation of the elements.