With the physical presence of its thin skin of grey paint, Empremta de tisores (Imprint of Scissors) bears witness to Antoni Tàpies’ lifelong engagement with the surface of the painting as a field for experimentation. Executed in 1987, Empremta de tisores exemplifies Tàpies’ interest in the traces left by physical objects: the ‘matter’ of the artwork becomes the subject on which imprints, marks and signs of reality are inscribed. The creation of the work coincides with a fruitful period of creativity for the artist, in which Tàpies gradually abandoned the thick encrusted surfaces which characterized his 1950s heavy wall paintings. Speaking of this period, Serge Guilbaut has written, ‘surfaces started to breathe. Tàpies’ art move[d] from an art of burial to an art of flight’ (S. Guilbaut, ‘Deliquescent Bodies With Eyelids: Conjuring every-day life in the 1980s’ in Tàpies in Perspective, exh. cat., Museu d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona Fundación ICO, Madrid, 2004, p. 292). In Empremta de tisores, the remains of the thick impasto which defined his early practice are still present, the oil building up where the large horizontal stripes of paint overlap, mimicking the wooden structure underneath. The diagonal impressions left in the crust of thin paint direct the gaze of the viewer to the centre of the panel, where a pair of stylized white scissors appears, as though stencilled. The cross is a renowned signature that recurs throughout the artist's oeuvre, asserting human presence. It appears like a symbol of Christian faith but equally operates like a death knell, marking the final resting place of those lost in conflict. An arcane collection of letters and signs is inscribed into a thicker layer of white paint at the top of the panel. Like hieroglyphics delivering a message from another time, they bear witness to Tàpies’ enduring fascination with the mysticism inherent in everyday matter.
The caustic materiality of Empremta de tisores unveils the process of its making and bears the indexical signs of the objects and tools the artist used. These things are transferred from our everyday world to the mystical realm of the artwork, in a process that imbues them with an almost spiritual, otherworldly presence. ‘The effects of the work of art are very similar to a kind obtained by the sorcerer or the magician. The artist does not just work to decorate the walls of apartments, but to act on people, on society, and one of its ways of acting must be able to influence the physical body and the spirit. One may also say of the artist that he works to communicate to people a reality beneath what they see’ (A. Tàpies, quoted in ‘Interview with Philippe Dagen’, Le Monde, 28 February 1988, p. 14). In this sense, the illustrated scissors, whose two-dimensionality contrasts with the sculptural presence of their background, seem to be on the verge of cutting through the impressed diagonal lines into an unknown space, almost suggesting a completely new dimension beyond the physical substance of the painting. The indexical trace of the scissors, an intervention on the skin of the work, brings together sight and touch. All the senses are called into action in the contemplation of Empremta de tisores: as the artist has explained, ‘I try to make my work produce general “psycho-physical” results in the spectator and to get it to act on other senses, not exclusively in the visual field. There is an aphorism by the painter Shih T’ao which is still valid for me: “I speak with my hand, you listen with your eyes”’ (A. Tàpies, quoted in ‘The Tattoo and The Body. Conversation with Manuel Borja-Villel’, 1997, in Y. Ishaghpour, Antoni Tàpies. Works, Writings, Interviews, Barcelona 2006, p. 145).