‘...I tried, rather like Miró, to lend everything, even the most insignificant subjects and motifs, something in the nature of a cosmic aspect and scope; all the elements correspond with each other in gigantic constellations. Figures, trees, mountains, they were all like sources of pure energy, a pure glow that suffused everything. Eyes were moons, mouths feathers, genitals flowers, hair branches, the heart a fleck of light... Everything formed and dissolved again in a single pantheistic flux in which the grandiose space of the galaxies was interpenetrated with microscopically small structures. Even the colours serve less to make bodies clearly visible; rather, they were full of intrinsic life, phosphorescent sources, glowing miasmas’
(Tàpies, quoted in A. Franzke, Tàpies, Münich 1992, p. 48)
Amidst a shadowy, twilight landscape, an array of figures, objects and motifs appear to float through the composition of Antoni Tàpies’ magical L’hora del pastor. Painted in 1952, L’hora del pastor is one of a series of 'magic paintings' that date from the late 1940s and early 1950s. With these surrealist-inspired works, Tàpies used a combination of figurative representation, geometric abstraction and personal symbol to create fantastical worlds that blur the real with the imagined: compelling visions of an enigmatic form of ‘surreality’. The dark, seemingly rural landscape lends the glowing crescent moon and the floating birds – one of Tàpies’ most frequently used motifs at this time – an ethereal presence. The partly visible figure on the left of the composition – possibly the shepherd to which the title refers – carries a sickle, a potent social and political symbol of the time. A mysterious, otherworldly scene, L’hora del pastor presents an array of recognisable motifs and objects, yet their meaning and relationship is indecipherable, a vision perhaps of an unknown, unknowable personal myth.
Tàpies painted L’hora del pastor at a crucial turning point in his early career. Since the late 1940s, he had been closely involved with the avant-garde Catalan group of artists and poets known as Dau al Set (The Seventh Face of the Dice). Inspired particularly by the work of Joan Miró, Paul Klee and Max Ernst, this group shared the surrealist notion of an art based on dreams and the unconscious. In 1952, however, the year that he painted L’hora del pastor, Tàpies broke away from this group, embarking on a period of feverish experimentation and intense activity as he began to experiment with unconventional materials, a practice that would come to define his career. Tàpies’ innate interest in the materiality of art is evidenced in the present work. Parts of the composition – the bird at the top, and the half-seen figure’s clothing – are rendered with fine, exquisitely delicate detail, while other motifs such as the two birds in the middle of the painting, are depicted with looser, iridescent coloured brush strokes. These differing painterly styles create a compelling tension within the composition itself, further conjuring the dream-like atmosphere that engulfs this mystic scene.