Tàpies and Discontinued Line

Línia discontínua (Discontinued Line), 1967
Mixed media on canvas
Link to image in the Fundación Juan March (scroll to middle of page)

All parts of this picture are white—not white exactly though, not the same white as new-fallen snow, not a winter white, but rather a cream color—like the cream rising to the top of the milk—before milk was pasteurized—when people still understood what such things were like. This painting is like that cream, but stained with a bit of red earth tone.

Across the upper edge—a line also of sienna—but broken—the brush has been lifted at intervals, a gesture perhaps meant to give the sense of time passing. The broken line pushes me as I read from left to right across the painting. I feel that I am reading the story of a life along that line. Some shadow haunts the far right side of the canvas. It might be a silhouette, but then again, it might not. It certainly suggests the head and shoulders of a man or of a woman. But of course, it is no such thing. It is all paint, and the painting is as much about the paint as anything else. That person, if it is a person, is embedded in this field of cream. The discontinued line seems to be leading me toward some uncertain future.

Am I the person or am I the line? If I am the person, I have almost been erased from the canvas. I have nearly been expunged from the picture. If I am the line, I am clearly segmented. The line is like music written into measures. It recalls hours, days, perhaps months or years. The line is more real than the person. The segments of time are substantial and incontrovertible. The rest is cream. In this painting dominated by white solidity, the line moves slowly across that background, as if it were pushing through some viscous substance ahead of itself. The canvas offers few clues to any meaning. Obviously, some event is being played out. The painting is about discontinuity. The line starts and the line stops. The line is broken. This painting is a picture of my life. It tells something about my experience of myself. I have the sense of displacement and of people and places that I have let go, experienced, and left behind.

Tàpies suggests. He leads without telling me where I might be going. In many of his works, he offers what might be a symbol or a narrative but it is up to the viewer to make an interpretation.

Though this Catalan painter is considered to be an abstract artist, I find many of his works to be anything but abstract. Almost always, they take me on some journey, through a door or window, perhaps into an architectural space that I’m forced to imagine, perhaps on a walk that has me passing by derelict buildings or a closed door that beckons. While Tàpies  invites me to look more deeply, it’s also true that many of his paintings deliberately shut me out. They tell me that I can’t go any farther, that I will be unable to penetrate this surface of material and weight. And in some sense, both things can even be true at the same time. The invitation is there but also the admonition that it might be dangerous to penetrate too far into the interior. He seems to be saying that some things need to left in a state of ambiguity or flux. He forces me to live in contradiction. He makes me deal with the very fine line between what I know and what I cannot know.