Antoni Tàpies

Galería Soledad Lorenzo

Mortality is not a new subject for Antoni Tàpies: on several occasions, he has even remarked that he became an artist because of a serious illness he suffered when he was an adolescent. It is only over the past few years, however, that death has become a central theme in his work. Unlike the group of chiaroscuro pieces incorporating skull and shroud motifs he exhibited two years ago at New York’s PaceWildenstein gallery, the works (dating from 1994 to 1997) that appeared in his most recent show reflected a variety of approaches to the subject. Some of these canvases and objects seem to indicate a kind of mystical ecstasy, while others suggest the triumph of human emotions over death.

Y grega (Y, 1996), returns to a familiar theme—a light glimpsed through darkness, symbolizing death as a source of knowledge. The large white Y painted on wood in this construction recalls a work from 1969, La gran puerta (The great door), in which a door leads to an illuminated space. Alongside the radiant area of white paint in Y grega, Tàpies placed a large R, an ambiguous element that may refer, as in his past works, to Ramon Llull, the thirteenth-century Catalan philosopher, mystic, and theologian. In other works, white signals a kind of psychic or spiritual liberation, recalling something the artist wrote in 1971: “White—color of the origin and of the end, the color of those on the verge of changing their condition, that of absolute silence . . . it is not the color of death, but rather that of the preparation of all living possibilities, of all youthful joys.”

Tàpies has always liked to play with dualities, so it is not surprising that he also uses the opposite of white to refer to death. On the left side of Díptic 2-3 (Diptych 2-3, 1996)—the largest painting in the exhibition—appear wavelike lines; while on the right, spirals lead to a large door containing an expanse of black paint. Many of the works also contain paired motifs: the letters A and T—easily identifiable as references to the names “Antoni” and “Teresa” (the artist’s wife)—and intertwined hearts.

By associating light with mystical revelation, Visió (Vision, 1994), echoes a source from Baroque art history—Caravaggio’s two versions of The Conversion of Saint Paul. This work includes a curious hieroglyph: a prostrate human figure with the letter M drawn over its legs, in what may be a reference to “mort,” the Catalan word for death. Above the figure reapppear the glowing white letters A and T, suggesting the victory of love over mortality.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin