Toni Tàpies: 'It is not easy being the child of a great artist'

Antoni Tàpies' son reflects on his father's cultural legacy and life at home

Toni Tàpies  in his Barcelona office
Toni Tàpies in his Barcelona office / Cillian Shields
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

December 17, 2023 09:38 AM

December 17, 2023 09:50 AM

Antoni Tàpies is revered around the world for his art that still today manages to look so fresh and contemporary, even decades after many of his pieces were created.  

The symbolism, significance, and philosophy behind his work can be studied and debated for days. But to get a better understanding of who the man behind this great artwork was, Catalan News paid a visit to his son, Toni in his Barcelona office. 

On the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth, Toni Tàpies is now in his late 60s. He previously worked as a doctor, before ultimately realizing his vocation lay with the arts, admitting that the ‘artist’s soul’ runs in the family. Toni has for years run an art gallery that managed much of his father’s estate. 


So what was Antoni Tàpies like at home? “Sometimes people said, oh, he was very angry or very serious. But in fact, he was very, very normal, very lovely,” Toni says, laughing off any idea that a movie could be made of his father’s life: “it would be quite boring, I think. You can do a film about Picasso, but not about Tàpies,” he jokes. 

Of course, the artist was “very, very interested in his paintings” at home. “So children were there, but it was basically my mother who played with us,” Toni adds. “And he was much of his time in the studio or then listening to music or reading.” 

During summers was when young Toni got to spend more time with his father, when they retreated to their country home in the Montseny massif, a rural part of the world that had a tremendous influence on the artist, where he worked in the mornings and spent time with the family in the afternoons.   

“We had lunch together every day, supper together every day. So I had the chance to speak a lot with my father, I learned a lot from him.”  

Antoni Tàpies worked in different home studios where the family lived during different periods, giving young Toni the chance to witness his father working close up from an early age.   

On occasion, the artist allowed the children to enter the studio, but it wasn’t a habitual thing "because he didn't like somebody there looking at what he was doing.” Sometimes, “not frequently, but sometimes,” Toni was allowed into the work space where the artist would hand him some colors and cardboard and encourage him to draw. “I have a good memory of that,” Toni says.  

Later in the son’s life, this home studio became too small for the artist, and they had another much bigger studio built outside close to the house where “he had more intimacy to work.”  

Toni Tàpies wasn’t aware of his father’s fame or relevance in the art world when he was a child, but eventually he started to realize as he got a little bit older. “When I was a teenager, he began to be quite successful, and journalists came to do interviews. I think then I realized.”  

“You know, it's not easy being the child of a great artist. At the beginning, I thought, oh, I have to do something important also.” Toni began writing poetry as a teenager and has since gone on to publish eight poetry books in Catalan. However, he would first go on to study medicine and work as a doctor for years, but eventually realizing that that was not his calling.   

“I probably studied medicine to do something very different [to my father]. But at the end, you see, I came back, and I run a gallery.”  

 The Galeria Toni Tàpies manages much of the estate of Antoni Tàpies, and has displayed the work of up-and-coming artists in the past. The entity currently doesn’t have a gallery space open to visit, but continues to work on the estate of the legendary artist. 

War, matter, politics 

But how does the son describe his father’s work? “He was very interested in matter, he used a mélange of marble dust and varnish, so this allowed him to scratch, to do forms, and I think the period of the dictatorship and the Civil War was very influential for him.” 

Aside from the psychological effect of living through a war, that period also marked the artist in his younger years for the political graffiti he saw appearing on the streets of Barcelona, as well as the physical markings of damage to walls and structures made from bullets and bombs. Toni Tàpies believes that here lies the root to the artist’s fascination with matter.  

The politics of Antoni Tàpies’ life also clearly influenced his art work, Toni says. “This period of the dictatorship was terrible in terms of not only freedom, but also cultural life, it was like living in a prison.”  

Thankfully for the artist, he was able to spend more time abroad than most other citizens, and this gave him a flavor of what life could be like under democracy. “When he went to Paris or Germany or the States, I think he could make a good contrast with the life here in Spain,” Toni says.  

The Catalan flag, the four red stripes over a yellow backdrop, is frequently seen in the paintings, drawings and prints of Antoni Tàpies. “My father was always a great defender of the Catalan country with our culture, our language, and this fight was always very present in his work. At this moment it was very difficult, Catalan was forbidden.”  

Outspoken in his political beliefs that went against the Franco dictatorship, Tàpies was arrested on one occasion. “It was an important meeting in a church here in Barcelona, Capuchins de Sarrià, with many intellectuals and students, and the police surrounded the church and they arrested everybody, and my father spent three days in jail at the police station, so it was not easy for us, for him and for the family too.” 

  • To learn more about Antoni Tàpies, tune in to the latest episode of our podcast Filling the Sink.