Enshrouding the viewer with its large scale, Blanc amb signe vermellós (White with a Reddish Sign) is an important material painting, executed in 1963. At nearly two metres long it is a comparatively large wall-like expanse of textured material centred on a carefully rendered red cross incised like a strange wound or ritualised mark into its centre. Tàpies has said that he greatly values such marks as fierce and undeniable traces of the human presence interacting with the material nature of the painting's surface and embedding itself within it.
A deliberate and personal mark of both identity and negation, the cross, as in this work, enlivens and punctuates the painting's surface in a manner that is in direct contrast to this work's other more impulsively made and seemingly accidental marks, cracks and incisions. These, although also all made by Tàpies, appear to indicate strange rational drawings, random and impulsive scratches, and the natural decay of the passage of time. Collectively, these impulsively-made marks signifying Tàpies bodily and intuitive responses to the textural and material nature of his fractured sandy ground, combine to suggest a palimpsest-like wall of matter or the bizarre ground-plan of some ancient and mysterious archaeology. In this, this painting is one that evokes one of the key themes of Tàpies art - his sense of the picture as a physical or material wall or doorway marking a divide with another world or reality.
As with Blanc amb signe vermellós, the surfaces of many of Tàpies' paintings are like walls in that these strongly material paintings assert themselves as a borderline between two states of understanding both repelling and inviting contemplation. Essentially landscapes made from the psychic interaction between man and material, and, more spiritually, between man as dust and dust as dust, the slight ephemeral, transient but ultimately profoundly meaningful marks that Tàpies makes in these works, are, for him, scores in the infinite but also material space that is manifested in front of the viewer in the form of the work's more-or-less flat painterly surface. Reflecting the spirit of man energizing and mixing with the matter of the painting, Tàpies' intention is to penetrate this mystery of life as catalogued on a wall or a door's surface by interacting with this innate nature. In this way, penetrating and making impressions on the surface of a canvas is therefore, for him, analogous to a journey of exploration.
Walls have represented this arena of meaning for Tàpies ever since his childhood when, sheltering from the violence on the streets of Barcelona during Spain's civil war he had not only been enclosed by them for long periods, yet, in the evening, had witnessed the ravages of the day's external events written on the dusty street walls of his city. The scratches, graffiti, bullet holes, and other surface damage all seemed to betray and describe the momentous events of the day that Tàpies' had otherwise only heard. This, in addition to the fact that the Catalan word for wall is encapsulated in the name 'Tàpies', has led to his close personal identification with the wall as a powerful tool and conveyer of meaning. When, in the late 1950s, he also learned that 'the work of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, was called Contemplation of the Wall at Mahayana, and that the Zen temples had sand gardens forming striations or fringes similar to the furrows of some of my paintings...and that in Buddhist meditation, they also seek the support of certain kasinas that sometimes consist of earth placed in a frame, in a hole, in a wall, in charred matter' Tàpies was also moved to recognise what he called 'a proud kinship between me and those philosophies and wisdoms I so esteemed. (Antoni Tàpies', "Communication on the Wall", 1969, in Antoni Tàpies in Perspective, exh. cat. Museu d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 2004, p. 79.)
Antoni Tàpies (b. 1923)
Oil and sand on canvas
PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed and dated 'Tàpies 1963' (on the reverse)
Antoni Tàpies , 1960s, Paintings, Spain, Post War
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
67 x 76 7/8in. (170 x 195.4cm.)
J. Brossa, J. Gomis, J. Prats and F. Vicens, Antoni Tàpies o l'escarnidor de diademes, Barcelona 1967, pl. XVII (ilustrated in colour).
A. Augustí, Tàpies, The Complete Works, 1961-1968, vol. II, Barcelona 1990, no. 1173 (illustrated, p. 156).
Galerie Stadler, Paris.
Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985.