“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 began 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 set aside this idea of assemblage to focus on ceramics and fireclay. The artist got started 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 fireclay techniques. Tàpies would later work at the Galerie Lelong studio in Grasse, France, assisted by German ceramist Hans Spinner. In the mid 1980s, based in this studio, Tàpies created 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 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 function of the artistic object defended by the Surrealists in the first decades of the 20th century, which is the aim to produce 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 beholder. 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 focussing on fragments of the body are reminiscent of votive figures that function as philosophical meditations on pain as part of the human existence. This is 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 are one of the most complex and relevant contributions of this artist to 20th century art. They 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.