Skip to main content

Tapies at the MCA Chicago

Antoni Tapies
Tapies at the MCA Chicago, a set on Flickr.
I went to the Chicago MCA last Friday for a press preview of the new show by Theaster Gates. After I'd finished there, I walked into the galleries devoted to the show Destroy the Picture, and a heavily textured, brooding painting caught my eye. Was it a painting by Antoni Tapies? Yes it was, and it was accompanied by four others, all of them from the late 1950s, when he was in the first headlong charge of his career (when his work, in other words, was at its peak.) I haven't seen this many paintings by the Catalan master since I lived in Barcelona, over 18 years ago. So I sat on the bench in the gallery, and lost myself for a while in the dense surfaces of these strange pieces of art.

Before I moved to Barcelona, I had only vaguely heard of Tapies, but once there it was difficult to avoid him. He is revered in Barcelona because of his opposition to the fascist regime of General Franco, and for his support of Catalan nationalism and identity, both of which were ruthlessly suppressed by the dictator. It's been said that the look of these paintings was derived from the walls of the buildings in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, which Tapies used as his own wall on which to scrawl his obscure marks and not-quite-words. I read a series of interviews with him once in which he said that his process is also influenced by asian philosophy, but for better or worse he is claimed in Catalonia as one of their own, an enemy of fascism and a friend of the common man. That's why you could walk into the shabbiest bar, with dirty floors and neon lights, and see a framed reproduction of a Tapies painting on the wall. You could also see his sculptures installed in public spaces, and if (like me) you wanted more, you could visit the Museu Tapies, on the Carrer d'Arago. As a student at the time, I obtained a visitor's card to the museum's library, in which I was very often alone among the stacks of giant art books, staring down through the glass wall that overlooked the museum at the larger-scale paintings from the 1980s and 1990s. I didn't like all of his work, but I was experimenting a lot in my studio when I was in Barcelona (that's where I did my Fine Art grad program), so it was easy to feel an affinity with Tapies' free handling of matter.

From the preceding paragraph it's obvious that my own biographical connection to Barcelona accounts in part for my fondness for Tapies. But I do love these paintings for themselves, as it were - for the surfaces that I find beautiful, and for the intimations of bodily presence and ghostly signs that emerge gradually, and only after prolonged looking. 


Popular posts from this blog

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Artist-Writer-Artist: Gerard Woodward

I am extremely pleased that poet and author Gerard Woodward agreed to be interviewed for this series. Gerard and my wife, Patty, were colleagues for a short while at the end of 2008, when Patty taught for one semester at Bath Spa University, where Gerard is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program. Gerard spent the spring semester of 2011 in Chicago on a reciprocal visit. Gerard has published poetry, short-stories, and novels. "Householder", his 1991 collection of poetry, won the Somerset Maugham Award in the UK, and his novel "I'll Go to bed at Noon" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Of his most recent novel, "Nourishment", The Daily Telegraph reviewer wrote: "It is a novel to be savoured, and Woodward is a novelist to be treasured." It turns out that in addition to his success as a writer, Gerard started his adult life in art college, and still draws and paints when he can. So here, from a writer's point of view…