The Voeten Collection represents a unique combination of both Belgian and international works. Currently it comprises over 1700 art pieces that have been collected during a period of more than 40 years. They are exhibited in two separate locations – at the Art Center close to Herentals and at the sculpture park near Gheel.

Antoní Tàpies

Peu-creu (Pied-croix or Foot Cross), 1987, terra xamotada (chamotte or fireclay), 80,5 x 58,5 x 47 cm

In 1953, after a surrealistic period, the painter, sculptor and art theorist Antoní Tàpies (1923-2012, Barcelona, Spain) began working abstract and with mixed media. Thus he became part of the art informel movement, the European equivalent to abstract expressionism in America. Within this movement Antoní Tàpies made his most famous and original works in the genre of 'haute pâte' or 'matter painting', using odd objects and undermining traditional fine art. These works are characterized by the use of marble dust and clay, mixed with paint and the incorporation of found objects such as string, paper and cloth, and later also pieces of furniture. Tàpies' works often blur the line between painting and sculpture. The cement-like paste in his work, made by mixing paint with sand and other mineral materials, resembles clay or volcanic lava, reminding us of the quality of the earth.

Tàpies created his first clay sculptures in 1981. The Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida, together with art dealer and gallerist Aimé Maeght and ceramist Joan Gardy Artigas, played a pivotal role in the discovery of this material: it was at Artigas' studio in Gallifa that Tapiès created his first ceramic pieces. He used fireclay, a blend of clay and fragments of crushed fired pottery. The sculptures Cub (1983) and Díptic (1983) are examples of this early production. Tàpies also worked together with the German ceramicist Hans Spinner. This led to the creation of some twenty-five works in Spinner's studio at Opio and at the Galerie Lelong workshop near Grasse in France in 1986-1988. Spinner also worked with other modern and contemporary sculptors, such as the English artist Anthony Caro (1924-2013), who experienced influence of both Chillida and Tapiès.

Tàpies made the sculpture Peu-creu or Pied-croix (1987) in chamotte or grog, also called 'fireclay' or 'firesand', a type of clay and ceramic raw material. Grog is used in pottery and sculpture to add a gritty, rustic texture and structural strength. The use of chamotte clay permits the construction of massive shapes that can be baked at high temperatures in a wood-fired Japanese tunnel oven, without cracking. The sculptures created with this procedure are unique items. Tàpies says: "Let's just say that each material expresses itself in its own way. You have to let them speak. They already have an expressive charge".

Tàpies shapes sculptures as physical mass, as a lump of matter, that he covers with drawings and painted inscriptions. This calligraphic aspect and his use of angle grinders and key teeth, among other tools, to inscribe symbolic marks in his sculptures, is characteristic to Tàpies' oeuvre. It seems that the artist used a sort of stamp to leave a mark on 'Peu-creu', in the form of numbers. This may clarify why the numbers are reversed. Remarkable is the incised scar at the back of the foot. During the firing process of the clay chemical reactions bring forth unpredictable effects. The artistic and chemical process refers to the use of figurative symbols of alchemy in the artist's aesthetic language.

Similar to Peu-creu are the works Cama i creu or Leg and cross (1986), Dos peus or Two feet (1986) and Cub-creu or Cube-cross (1988). Next to the investigation of everyday objects Tàpies was interested in fragments of the human body, such as feet, hands, arms, skulls, which he often enlarged to over life-size. Besides that, is the letter 'T' or a form of crucifix, an X, or plus sign, as a universal religious as well as mathematic symbol, one of the most recurring marks in Tàpies' artistic language. It suggests the artist's initial and allows multiple interpretations. The cross signifies death and refers to the cemetery with 600 000 graves, amongst them that of Tàpies' father, who died during the Spanish Civil War between 1936-1939, and is witness of the suffering of the people and the reaction of the artist to the dictatorship of Franco. But an X is also used to indicate a specific space, to delete something or to cross something out, to indicate mystery, but also human presence. "The cross is a very ancient sign, represented in many cultures, that has something to do with the union of adversarial things and thus with a fundamental symbolic representation of the world. It's an image that summarizes universal and very deep and complex philosophical problems", says Tàpies.

Antoní Tàpies was represented by the Galerie Lelong in Paris and the Pace Gallery in New York. He became known as one of Spain's most renowned artists in the second half of the 20th century. His abstract and avant-garde works were displayed in many major museums all over the world. After studying law for three years, Tàpies devoted himself from 1943 onwards only to his art and became increasingly interested in philosophy. In 1948 Tàpies became part of the avant-garde group 'Dau al Set' (Catalan for 'the seventh face of the dice'), the first post World War II artistic movement in Catalonia, founded in Barcelona, that had strong ties to Surrealism and Dadaism.

For more information about Antoní Tàpies please visit: The Antoní Tàpies Foundation or Fundació Antoni Tàpies is a museum and cultural center located in Carrer d'Aragó, in Barcelona, Catalonia that is dedicated to the works and life of Tàpies. It was established in 1984 by Tàpies himself. His intent was to create a forum that would promote the study as well as the knowledge of modern and contemporary art.

Text: Sarah Gallasz