Antoni Tapies on viewing modern art and his painting Wood and Straw:
Above all, if one does not play the "game" with a certain predisposition, no explanation will suffice, and it won't be fun for anyone. It is, in a way, the prior condition that must exist in one who prepares to attend a magic show, a feat of prestidigitation. And if one is not willing to let himself be 'put under' these spells that consitute the convention known as "art", we need not go any further. Just look at what happens to the spectator who enters the salon where the sleight of hand is to take place intent on only discovering the trick. The more tricks he finds, the more foolish the show seems because, in truth, it's all smoke and mirrors, a pure deceit that gives pleasure only to the unsuspecting innocent willing to be deceived. That's exactly where the fun is! And what fun it is! And how poetic! The whole ceremony, all those movements, all those colors, all that essential purity in telling us "now you see it now you don't," and that the rabbits and the objects are transformed even as they remain the same, and that they multiply, and that they melt, and that they grow and shrink. And fish turn into birds, and an empty trunk produces a young princess, and the stroke of a fan makes flowers grow, while coins come out of the ears of the most unbelieving.
I imagine the greatest surprise for the viewer who comes in unaware must certainly be the fact of finding this sort of pile of straw in an exhibition hall, where until recently one went to see more "important things". If the viewer gives us the benefit of the "magical spell", he will see, of course, that the artist has, from the outset, meant to make "art"-for we are not dealing with a pile of hay in a haystack, but one that is placed in the form of a painting in a place where art is usually served up-although with a very poor material. The first clue, then, is that the "magician"-in this case, the artist-that traditional specialist who has always dealt in the deep things of life, has chosen today this humble foundation, this straw, as a topic worthy of consideration.
So what's going on? Do those once favored by the muses no longer paint heavenly things? Do those who had always dealt with the great solemn occascions no longer glorify their lords nor anyone else in their grace? Well, no. Artists, who consider themselves the most refined, the most sensitive of beings, haven't believed in all that in years. No one is important enough for them, and they would like society to believe that as well. Instead, they fall in love with straw. And now the viewer's right of imagination can begin to go into action. We have all seen clumps of hay in a stable. But perhaps finding them here, on the scene of "important" things, the highest wisdom is incarnated in the poorest body. To reflect upon straw, upon manure, is to meditate on upon the first things, on the most natural things, on the origin of force and life. Because the artist feels, and this is nothing new, that this origin, this life source, this fertilizer that makes the earth fecund, the "salt of the earth" truly resides in those who struggle from below, who sleep, even if it is symbolically, in the straw of miserable huts, or on the pallets of so many prisons, or amid the stink of the manure in the stable for "heretics" or in the fields where those who are considered trash leave behind their sweat. And this is not out of sentimentalism nor any "artistic" tastse for poverty, but to allow for an understanding of the "primary nature" of the dialectics, and struggle of all things, naturally including, the class struggle. Because, what's more, the painting also contains a piece of wood that divides it in two. Two. Students of symbolisms of art would say much more than I about this "two". They would speak of opposition, conflict, balance, creator and thing created, black and white, male and female, yin and yang, life and death, good and evil, high and low. And both spaces are white. White. The color of the beginning and the end, the color of one who is about to change his condition, the color of absolute silence, which as Kandinsky put it, is the preparation of all living possibilities, for all the joys of youth.
Naturally there will always be someone who will say" "What is this guy talking about? There's nothing but a bunch of straw mane stuck to a white canvas with a plain old stick in the middle!" And we'll have to say he's right. He saw through the trick. All this show in fact is nothing unless we want or are able to see more than what there is. But the artist doesn't feel frustrated by this any more than thinks he's a failure, or the magician feels ridiculed. What right does this positivistic viewer have not to allow others to give free rein to their "imaginations"? And we still hear those that cry: "The imaginings of an impotent magician! No one will ever see so much philosophy in this! It is the art of pretension and vanity!" And the author must confess again, that they are right, that he too agrees. And perhaps it is precisely for this reason, for this fear of vanity, that he has chosen to make a painting of straw. Because he no longer believes in anything that can be glorified today but the most elementary, the purest, the most unpolluted, and even the most innocent things, on condition, of course, that these things be ready to catch fire. Because he sees that this is the only thing that keeps the world alive. This is life. And he doesn't want to hear anything more about the hierarchies and disguises asssumed by those who think they are important, but who are really dead. For the painter there is nothing more than a pile of straw, and a "two". And a "two" that is really a "one". And everyone has the right to tell him that he's a farceur, that this is all a lie, a deceit. Because he thinks so too. A painting is nothing. It is a door that leads to another door. Art, no matter how excellent, will always be just one more manifestation of maya, of the deception at the core of everything. And the truth that we seek will never be found in a painting, but will only appear behind the last door that the observer learns to open with his own strength. And the more important the painting, the more important the personages painted in it, and the more colors and coats of paint there are, the thicker will be the veil that darkens the truth, and the less we will find the path.
But let it be clear that nothing is hidden here. We have always said that these things were very important to us, but we have also said, right from the start, that they are not serious in the manner of those who think themselves too wise. Because art is a game and-who can say this is not true of all human acts?-only on condition that we become quite innocent will we truly capture its deep meaning.