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Tapies is dead.

It was with a profound loss I heard today of the death of Antoni Tapies. I still remember that ‘shock of recognition’ when I first saw Tapies’ work back in the 60s. Very few artists have ever offered MATTER in their work as well as Tapies. Nor, I feel, has anyone succeeded in giving matter such completely embodied resonance.

There have been few modern artists who have made a commitment to the actual material like Tapies did throughout his career, and at the same time succeeded in establishing a subtle and complex set of values through the work. Tapies was, in the main, an abstract artist, and his work struggled into life on the boundary of becoming inarticulate. There was no formal language through which to convey what he sought to evoke, and art’s various historic strategies failed him too. For me he was one of the few artists to have ever gone directly to matter to find meaning, like those early abstract artists who saw the religious possibilities that lay in abstraction. Unlike them, however, he made the spiritual available to us through his manipulation of material, not through ‘design’ or composition. Arguably he refused structure and form, and their artificiality as meer arbitrary choices on the part of the individual. Formlessness was never so wonderful!

Hints of meanings were also often strewn across canvasses – abandoned letters, symbols such as crosses, etc. It seemed that the ‘meanings’ here were too evanescent to quite take form, and perhaps like Cy Twombly, he seemed to do more on the edge of this formlessness than could be achieved by any kind of definitive shaping. My love of his work depends, though, on the meanings he seemed to have etched out of inarticulate matter, refusing as an artist to offer meaning as separate from matter – no dualism here.