Antoni Tàpies (Spanish, 1923-2012) Gris et noir 1956
Lot 3AR
Antoni Tàpies
(Spanish, 1923-2012)
Gris et noir
Sold for £ 84,100 (US$ 117,436) inc. premium

Lot Details
Antoni Tàpies (Spanish, 1923-2012) Gris et noir 1956
Antoni Tàpies (Spanish, 1923-2012)
Gris et noir

signed and dated 1956
mixed media on paper laid on masonite

Work: 110.5 by 77.5 cm.
43 1/2 by 30 1/2 in.

With frame: 138 by 105 cm.
54 5/16 by 41 5/16 in.


  • Provenance
    Martha Jackson Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, Spain
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    New York, The American Federation of Arts, Younger Europeans, 1956
    New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, Tàpies, 1961

    Anna Agustí, Antoni Tàpies: Catalogue Raisonné. Volume 1, 1943-1960, Paris 1989, p. 292, no. 588, illustrated in black and white

    Gris et noir is an arresting example of Tapies' 'matter' series produced in the 1950s and 1960s in which the artist mixed conventional and unconventional materials to create dense, wall-like surfaces that are blank and mysterious at the same time. The works often included different inscriptions and incisions – most notably the 'x' sign - and depicted Tapies' personal, self-taught vision of art.

    By the time this work was painted in 1956, Tapies had already had his first solo show with Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1954, and had met Michel Tapiè in Paris, the influential French art critic who would be so instrumental not only to his career but also for the defining of art history movements, such as the Informel. In the same year, three of Tapies' works were included in the Venice Biennale, two of which were 'matter paintings' and by his own admission 'matter paintings' were by this point already widely recognized as typical of his artistic style.

    In Gris et noir, the material used not only expresses an idea, but it becomes the idea itself: the process Tapies uses - laying down varnish on the support first, adding dust and sand particles before it dries, and then finally adding colour and incision marks - thus becomes identification between material and form. The composition of this work is its rough texture – the surface of the canvas has a deliberately limited palette which is evidently evocative of the harsh, war-battered walls of Tapies' native Catalonia, and the likeness to a graffiti-marred wall suggests enclosure, confinement, escape and freedom - ideas that were at the heart of the Spanish Civil War which he experienced as a teenager.

    Two graffiti-like black marks in the lower part of the work draw our attention to the incisions and his recognizable 'x' marks in the lower right corner: cruciform shapes that look less like Christian symbols than negative marks on a child's exercise book, or the signatures of illiterate people, or even distortions of the artist's own initial. This fluid but gritty surface encapsulates everything that was important to Tapies – tectonic materials referencing walls; real dirt and dust and graffiti marking from the street. Earth, dust, atoms, particles all represented materials that were foreign to the academic artistic expression and which were the realities of the post-nuclear world in which Tapies and his contemporaries operated.

    Post-War artists were deeply affected by the experiences of the Second World War and the atom bomb. Art created in the 1950s was both reflecting and challenging the world in which they lived and artists looked for new ways of expression. Much like his contemporaries Jean Dubuffet and Lucio Fontana, both of whom Tapies had met in Paris and whose works he knew well, Tapies' canvases were rough surfaces which served as an altar for the process of making art. And unlike Fontana's swirling, almost galactic compositions, Tapies' coarse surfaces were at times difficult to judge aesthetically, but always had an impact that he aimed for – questioning our understanding of art, and consequently of the new realities of the world around us. Gris et noir accentuates such principles in art, focusing on form that followed natural rhythms of matter, and looking to the organic world as opposed to the geometries of the day.

    "Little by little, I conceived the idea of forming my surfaces by mixing corpuscles of all types: coloured powders, plaster and marble dust, hair thread, pieces of cloth, paper, etc. (...) Then I discovered (...) that the quantitative stew of elements underwent a qualitative change and transformed itself not only into a unity of surface, but became in my eyes like a series of mud walls, or 'tapies'." The serendipity of the fact that his name and subject matter had the same meaning in Catalan did not escape Tapies. However, he did not intend on purely making walls - he wanted to create works that arose subliminal ideas in the viewer: the dominance of unusual and impure colours (greys, ochres, browns) together with the articulation of the visual with writing, letters and digits created works that were not meant to be recognizably figurative, but to witness ideas on where art currently was and where it was going.

    Natural materials allowed Tapies to express images freely, without the need for photographic naturalism. Tapies' works are deliberately abstract and formless – his need to use earthen materials came from the accent he placed on the texture of painted forms. In his own words: "...I would be unfair to myself if I didn't say that this third aspect of the visual - colour, form, texture - was explored by me more than by most artists". This textural quality came from constant experimentation and stemmed from meditative allusions to the significance of particles and dust – it is what we are created from and what we will return to one day.

    This beautiful early work bears many of the markings that developed across Tapies' oeuvre and built his success. Many artists have been influenced by Tapies, and the 2013 Tapies: Lo sguardo dell'artista exhibition at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice a year after his death was a timely reminder of his status in the art community, as well as his long-standing legacy as one of the most important Post-War European artists.
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