BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish leaders and the entire art world mourned Tuesday the death of the great avant-garde painter and sculptor Antoni Tapies.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent a message of condolences to the family of Tapies, who died in Barcelona on Monday aged 88, describing him as "one of the great reformers of 20th century art".
"His work and career will remain in the memory of all as a benchmark of indelible excellence in plastic arts as much in Spain as in the world," the Spanish leader said.
Opposition leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Tapies, who had been ill for a while and whose funeral will be held in private at the family's wish, was the most important Spanish artist of the second half the 20th century.
"Tapies was radically free in his creativity, and this freedom made itself known as much in his work as in his ethical commitment to society," the Socialist leader said.
Tapies was "my country's greatest master of painting," said fellow Catalan painter Miquel Barcelo.
"A whole man," he wrote in a hommage.
The Catalan won worldwide renown with abstract canvases and compositions in material ranging from paint to discarded clothes.
Among his more controversial works was "The Sock", a three metre-high model of a sock with a hole in its heel. The sock was a favourite motif of the artist, who said that art should be made from simple things.
Tributes poured in, with the director of the major Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid, Manuel Borja-Villel, hailing Tapies' tactile works, which were exhibited worldwide.
"This is a sad night... but the important thing is that we still have his works, which are extraordinary, as well as his work as a collector, his foundation and his writings," he told public radio RNE.
"His work maintained a stuctural ambiguity that made it hard to absob in a system taht needs rules and comfort," the museum director added in an article for leading daily El Pais.
"Moving between the objectual, the pictorial and the written, his canvasses had somethign of sculptural or tactile and show the rules of painting fleeing from any kind of idealism," Borja-Villel wrote.
Tapies was associated early on in his career with 20th-century art greats, including fellow Catalans Joan Miro and Salvador Dali.
He met Picasso in France, according to the Antoni Tapies Foundation which he founded in his native Barcelona and which confirmed his death in an email to AFP.
Tapies was born in Barcelona to a middle-class, Catalan nationalist family and he made his first moves into drawing and painting during a long convalescence from lung disease, his foundation said.
Eventually he gave up law studies for art, and began exhibiting in 1940s, later showing a great influence from World War II and the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan.
Works in the 1950s and 1960s included images superimposed on each other with different meanings. Often, Tapies' art forced the onlooker to re-think material usually seen as repulsive.
Tapies took part in resistance against the regime of the General Francisco Franco, for which he was fined and briefly detained.
"In the late sixties and early seventies his political commitment in opposition to the dictatorship deepened and the works from that period have a marked character of denunciation and protest," the foundation said.
After the return of democracy in Spain, the artist returned to work on canvas often using foam rubber, spray and varnishes, while also creating sculptures in clay and bronze.
Later in his life Tapies showed greater interest in Eastern culture. He was influenced by Buddhist thought, the foundation said, and in his last years his work reflected on physical and spiritual pain.
Spain's King Juan Carlos conferred the title of Marquess on him in 2010.
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