“Art is a symbol, a thing conjuring up reality in our mental image. That is why I don’t see any contradiction between abstract and figurative art.”
Antoni Tàpies started producing tridimensional works with found objects and assemblages in the early 1960s, which expanded on his vision of art made of materials evoking both a humble existence a strong sense of touch. In the 1980s, Tàpies temporarily set aside this initial idea of sculpture to focus on ceramics and fireclay. He started producing works with this new technique at the ceramic studio of Joan Gardy Artigas, who played a crucial role inspiring Joan Miró and Eduardo Chillida to produce works in ceramic and other fireclay techniques. Tàpies would later work at the Galerie Lelong studio in Grasse, France, assisted by German ceramist Hans Spinner. In the mid 1980s, Tàpies created in Grasse a series of ceramic sculptures depicting fragments of the human body.
Completed in 1988, Queixal is an oversized human tooth covered with white enamel. The smooth and glossy surface of the vitreous porcelain enamel is disrupted with punctures, intentional cracks, handmade marks and graffiti-like inscriptions depicting crosses, numbers and square roots symbols that belong to artist’s visual language of codes and signs. Inspired by a desire to radically reinvent of sculpture, Queixal evokes the Surrealist function of the artistic object that aims to create a shocking and enduring effect on the viewer. In this work, we see the mechanism known as displacement, which removes the element from its familiar context to create a shocking psychological association on the viewer. A few years after the completion of this work, when art critic Jean Frémon formulated Tàpies the question “What is sculpture?” in the book La poétique de la matière, the artist replied: “Why not, for example, thirty kilos of clay shaped into a premolar and hastily covered with white enamel that looks like it’s still dripping?”
The sculptural works that Tàpies created in the 1980s depicting fragments of the body are reminiscent of votive figures that function as philosophical meditations on pain as part of the human existence. This is particularly relevant as during this time Tàpies was exposed to the visual information of wars in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan that brought back his memories of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a conflict he witnessed and suffered as a 13-year-old boy in Barcelona, Spain.
The sculptures of Antoni Tàpies constitute one of the most complex and relevant contributions of this Catalan artist to 20th century art and have been the subject of important studies such as Gloria Moure's Tàpies. Objects of Time (1995) and major museum exhibitions such as Antoni Tàpies: From Object to Sculpture (1964-2009) at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2013-2014.
This artwork is accompanied by a photo certificate by Miquel Tàpies, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, dated March 25th, 1993. The sculpture is registered in the artist’s archive under photo number T-6926.