Antoni Tàpies writing a fragment for an autobiography cut, incised and pasted here, interrupted by Tomas Kulka, illustrated by Tàpies’s tàpies

I was obsessed by materiality, by the paste-like quality of phenomena.

– Antoni Tapies, A Personal Memoir: Fragments for an Autobiography, trans. Josep Miquel Sobrer, Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona, and Indiana Uni. Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, p. 173

In Spain there was not a word about content, about motivations, about social function, about the politics of art. Would it have been possible to get to the heart of those questions by attending the silly exhibitions and reading the miserable art criticism of my country? Quite the opposite. Here those questions were carefully concealed. People said that art was art and that the artists shouldn’t trouble about anything else. The clichés dicated that art had nothing to do with politics, or religion, or philosophy. Those clichés have always favoured the castrated, or those who would want all of us castrated.

On the other had, as I deepened in the study of the pioneers of avant-garde art, I saw that with no exceptions their art was precisely the result of their preoccupations with all that was profound in our lives and in our society.

– Ibid., p. 169

Prats had been, and was, a friend of Miro from their young days and had also tried his hand at painting. They used to go together to the Sant Lluc academy to draw and went out of town on Sundays to paint. When Prats found himself ravished by Miro’s world, he quit painting. How instructive his noble gesture of saying: “You are what I would like to be. I am happy with what you do.” It is a lesson for so many failed artists who drag their bitterness along their whole lives.

– Ibid., p. 192

Klee’s … scrapings, linear incisions, darkenings, stains, thick textures, netting collages, filaments, graffiti-like tones

– Ibid., p. 195

I was inclined to follow some of my early intuitions ‘towards magic,’ where the real blended with the unreal, and where the object blended with the being, as I tried to lend my canvases the aura of primitive or esoteric objects. [circa 1947] … I also wanted to put in my work all my rebelliousness, my challenge to what was ‘officially’ sanctioned at the time, and wrap myself in an attitude of provocation and sharp defiance.

– Ibid., p. 187

If we can see our past as a function of our present, if we realise that – as Trotsky put it – “it isn’t a matter of a dead photograph of my life, but of a living piece of it that keeps on fighting,” then after all we might find that the decision to publish this, however brokenly – or precisely because of its fragmentary nature -, will become a useful ‘action.’ A fragment, a torso, say, of an old sculpture, may very well be more stimulating than a completely ‘closed’ work.

– Ibid., p. 19

Ortega y Gasset, whose sharp mind was highly praised, became odious to me because of his opinions about art. His statement that in new artists there was a will to intranscendence, seemed to me then incomprehensibly gratuitous. … when Ortega dogmatized that the new art would never be popular, and when he showed his incredulity in the face of abstract art and his reticence before Surrealist automatism, he was not only wrong, as the passing of time has already proven, but his authority made people accept for a long time his predicated divorce between the new art and humanism.

Time would make me see more clearly the reasons for the continuing split between modern art and the public at large, a split not created by art. … Let’s bear in mind that avant-garde art, as well as avant-garde cinema and theatre, was on the brink of becoming really popular in Russia at the onset of the Soviet revolution, despite the limited exposure of those art forms. … Germany would have followed suit if it had not been for the repression of which they were victims. (Let us also bear in mind that Ortega’s La deshumanizacion del arte was published in 1925 at then height of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship when reactionary tendencies held sway over Europe.)

There are, then, external causes that have prevented the rapid popularization of modern art. If it were not persecuted openly (as in Nazi Germany, in Stalin’s Russia), it was kept in isolation, as a world apart, discussed only in specialised pages. How much space, even today, do the mass media devote to modern art in contrast to what they devote to sports or to pop music? How often do those same media not poke fun at it and spread confusion about it? A good friend from later years, the scuptor Angel Ferrant, used to say: “Art, theatre, and cinema, if they are really alive, wake up people. Fascist governments are not interested in this. They prefer soccer, which distracts and stupefies.” Truly alive and sensitive artists cannot be divorced from progressive ideas, for these are precisely what give them their creative impulses. Let me insist: you cannot lay on the artist the responsibility for being understood only by a minority of wealthy people. It is clearly unjust to state, without the necessary distinctions, that “artists work but for a few experts, snobs, collectors, and gallery curators who, on the other hand, cannot influence what is produced and need to limit themselves to sanctioning and selecting.” This was Ortega’s great error, and that of the fascists, and, paradoxically, that of many who claimed to be on the left.

– Ibid., pp. 161-2

The more I uncovered the facts of the repression the more I execrated the ‘new order’ forced upon us. An ‘order’ inspired by the fascism of other countries that were nothing but the ‘dream and lie’ of the most obscurantist and retrograde elements in the world. Violence against a life based on convictions, fanaticism, and superstitions encouraged unabashed egoism, boastfulness, and plain cruelty. It was imperative not to five in to that ‘order,’ at any cost, and oppose it with an authentic and progressive awareness of reality.

– Ibid., p. 170

His hands smelt of saliva because all the children kissed them.

Why don’t you attempt a human theme? Something like a bunch of children with angelic faces looking at a puppet theatre, while from the stage their father moves the marionettes and peaks out from the side of the scaffolding to see the reaction of his beloved children.

– Ibid., p. 90

return correctly dressed and learn to walk. The man was a cripple.

To the surprise of some relatives who thought they’d be riffraff, those men appeared kind and humane and we spent the afternoon playing and chatting.

– Ibid., p. 101

That disastrous state of affairs, selling out to the despicable taste of the nouveaux riches of the period, was said, quite reasonably, to have sprung from the politics of the time.

– Ibid., p. 160

I was not conscious enough of the importance that all those experiences may or may not have. I didn’t even understand that suffering involves cleansing. I could, in a despondent way, see only that I was submerged in the experience. Neither did I suspect the possible enrichment of my spirit from that upheaval of my senses nor appreciate the explosion of symbols and images from my visions and dreams.

– Ibid., p. 154

At the same time I thought those visions brought me a curious clairvoyance that unveiled a reality that seemed more authentic than what normal people perceive.

– Ibid., p. 135

One of the last sojourns of convalescence in Puigcerda coincided with the hasty retreat of the German army occupying the south of France. The old Germany of Schiller, Goethe, and Beethoven, of which my father had spoken so many times, which we saw as so brilliant thanks to the propaganda poured on us at school, which in the thirties still seemed to us a paradise of learning, of romanticism, a privileged place for lovers of philosophy, of music, the country from where all visitors returned in awe, that Germany, we now saw it reduced to a bunch of fugitives crossing our borders led by officers still elegant and proud, but with depressed and lost eyes.

– Ibid., p. 148

Behind the iron gates of the garden of that house … their still shiny boots, perfectly shaved and clean, some of them were pacing up and down like caged beasts … impeccable light-brown three-piece suit, a white mustache, a monocle, and a stiff hat on his head.

– Ibid., pp. 148-9

The Cell of Colours

“The moral and physical faculties of the victim were put to torture in the Cell of Hallucinatory Colours. There, geometrical designs mesmerised the attention of the detainee who was unable to turn his gaze away from these diabolical patterns … Then, shapes, curves, sinister angles were put into play, and under a powerful light, all the colours started to shake, tearing the nerves of the victims to shreds, pricking them with pins of anxiety, and bringing the fear of madness into the Cell of Colours.”

– Ibid., pp. 121-2, quoting R.L. Chacon, Laurencic ante el Consejo de Guerra, Barcelona, Solidaridad Nacional, 1939

hovering over the water by putting all the weight of his body on hands and feet at the four corners of the tub, and then plunge in. I did not witness the scene of that delicate, white, naked boy, his rough manner notwithstanding, like a crucified body dropping into that bathtub, in such strange circumstances, near a funereal platform.

– Ibid., p. 126


Obviously, something has gone wrong. … We must examine one prevailing assumption, pertaining to the evaluation of works of art, that is chiefly responsible for the intolerable conclusion that kitsch might be better than one of Picasso’s masterpieces.

– Tomas Kulka, Kitsch and Art, Penn. State Uni. Press, Pennsylvannia, 1996, p. 51

We must either admit that kitsch has an appreciable measure of aesthetic merit, or abandon the assumption that unity, complexity, and intensity are indeed standard and general features of good art.

– Ibid.

[marking the turn from Aesthetic to Artistic Value]

It is the general assumption (implicit in most classical as well as contemporary writings on aesthetics) that works of art are, and should be, evaluated and appraised solely for their aesthetic value. Not only Beardsley and Dickie, but almost all contemporary aestheticians, seem to identify the appreciation and evaluation of works of art with the appreciation and evaluation of their aesthetic merit. I believe that this assumption, natural as it may seem, must be abandoned.

– Ibid., pp. 51-2

People say, then, that you have to find in art purely aesthetic qualities, that all told, value is given by the fact that the image is well painted.

– Antoni Tapies, A Personal Memoir: Fragments for an Autobiography, trans. Josep Miquel Sobrer, Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona, and Indiana Uni. Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, p. 298

The tones, the colours, and the qualities I kept discovering in those themes and materials implied a refusal to look at the mundane. They provided a state of closure, of annihilation of passions, of silence, of death. They could also allude to rending, to quartered bodies, human remains, ruins … At times they sought the equivalents of pure sound, as electronic music. At other times, like creaking percussion, scraping, explosions, shots, resonance, space … They were closer to concrete music, and also closer, as opposed to abstract painting, to everyday objects.

– Ibid.

these images … were not an abrupt intrusion to reveal everything at once, but rather experiences that developed and spread for a good number of years.

– Ibid.

But what could this ‘painterly value’ be if I have never tried to paint well, if I have only attempted to express myself?

It is interesting, for the moment, to show the difference the artist feels between expressing and communicating, the latter a widespread notion today, equivalent to serving as intermediary, as some would have it … …And some even think that pretending that an artist can express something of his own is equivalent to mythifying the artist, an intolerable case of pride. Those who think this way, as you can understand, are the proponents of cultural directives on either the right or the left.

– Ibid., p. 299

Other critic friends have also told me that the expressivity of purely painterly structures is rather demeaned by the use of an image reproducing reality. For them the proper organisation of an artistic structure, a structure that is only artistic, is the one thing to give a work of art its value. … What happens to the spectator in front of such work? … Shouldn’t one, in this as in all spheres of life, follow a path synthesizing antagonistic positions, as happens with the tension between form and content?

– Ibid.