In the paintings for which [Tàpies] is best known, he embedded the humble materials of the street – sand, dirt, clay, rock, pebbles – into his paint. Their surfaces resemble walls, windows, and doors inscribed with graffiti-like letters, numbers, crosses, and other signs, pockmarked with bullet holes, and worn with abrasions. Indeed, scratched, pitted, and gouged, these wall-like surfaces conjure memories of the damaged, disgarded, and abandoned architecture of his beloved Catalonia’ (P. Schimmel, Destroy the Picture, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2012, p. 107).
A tapestry of markings emerge on the rough surface of Antoni Tàpies’ canvas in Gris amb forma rosa, from the artist’s thickly applied layers of grey clay-like material atop a mauve-painted background. This has produced a remarkable granular surface texture, and when allowed to dry, the clay has formed into ripples and raised peaks, pulled downwards by gravitational forces. Towering over a metre in height, Tàpies has created a fresh terrain, and by adding incisions, holes and scratches upon the setting media, he has given the piece a rugged energy. Paint has been mixed with and layered on top of this material, creating the pink form in the upper left hand corner and the dark grey T beside it – almost resembling a graffiti tag. The various thicknesses of the material on canvas and the inclusion of paint ensures that there are many subtle tones of grey upon the surface. Tàpies delights in the punctured, sliced and radical surface texture, saying that his ‘pictures became the truly experimental fields of battle... destruction led up to aesthetic tranquility.’ (A. Tàpies, quoted at http:/www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/tapies-grey-and-green-painting-t00471 [accessed 12 September 2014]). This quality is highlighted by the smoothness of the surrounding frame, which echoes certain hues from the picture plane.
Much of this aesthetic was rooted in his fascination with the weather-beaten, graffiti walls that lined the streets of his native Catalonia, and which bore traces of the hardship and repression endured throughout the Spanish Civil War. Indeed, it was during the Civil War that he taught himself how to draw, and thus much of his oeuvre can still be related back to that experience. When discussing his work and its context, Tàpies has often referred to the grey hues of the walls he passed when growing up in Barcelona, and the present work could refer to the pinkish hues of an early evening sunset: the unmistakable dazzle of the Mediterranean sun hitting monotone walls, mimicked by the pink painterly tones upon the grain and ripple of the clay.
Working with other artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Jean Fautrier, Alberto Burri and Willem de Kooning within the Art Informel movement, and using non-traditional materials in artistic production, Tàpies embraced the new frontiers of painting to mesmerising effect. The present work, executed in 1961, is exemplary of the ‘matter paintings’ that represent one of the most essential areas of Tàpies’ practice. Materially grounded yet metaphysically conceived, these works constitute a deep enquiry into the relationship between the tactile substance of earthbound matter and its inherent mystical properties. Tàpies was entranced by raw media and notion of human trace, creating works that attempted to access unknown dimensions of being through their rarefied physicality. The 1960s were an important time for the artist, with growing international recognition evidenced by his first solo museum exhibitions in Europe and America, as he reached his artistic maturity. Through his unique material abstraction, Tàpies has produced a work that emanates from beyond its frame.