From the start of his artistic career in the mid-1940s, the work of Antoni Tàpies was characterised by an unconventional, experimental use of materials and techniques. This early collage, with painterly, partly raised structures, traces of scratching and glued scraps of paper already demonstrates important creative features and characteristic haptic qualities. The 'Collage with the Crosses' is a material image and, as a work on paper, is on a par with the artist's paintings.
In 1943, after a long stay in a sanatorium because of a pulmonary complaint, Tàpies began to study law at his father's request. In 1946, however, he abandoned his studies to devote himself entirely to art. In addition to figurative pen-and-ink drawings, which were influenced by Surrealism, symbol-laden and primarily called the Self into question, Tàpies also worked on cardboard in order to develop abstract material collages in a more Dadaist tradition, using string, newspaper and (as is the case here) household paper.
The collage referred to in the title refers to the crumpled, light-coloured paper, whose material effect determines the composition. The elements combined by Tàpies - the painted cardboard, crosses, green, purple and red splotches of colour, scored lines and torn paper - together form a space which directs the viewer's associations. The scraps of paper distributed across the surface, like the painted black crosses, look as if they have been blown in by the wind and partly soaked by clayey brown earth. Along with letters, numbers and mathematical abbreviations, the sign of the cross is the symbol most frequently used by the artist in his works. It marks and negates and stands for addition, for faith and for death. While the aggressive lines tearing open the surface of the paint convey traces of violence, the dabs of paint are more like flowers, and the gleaming white cross in the foreground is more a sign of appeasement that seeks peace.
Tàpies was equally interested in European art history and the mystics of the Middle Ages and European and Oriental philosophy. His work was also influenced by his friendship with Catalan artists such as Joan Miró (1893-1983) and the lyricist Joan Brossa (1919-1998). Events under the dictatorship of Franco, who had ended Catalonia's autonomy, became a determining factor in the encoded messages of Tàpies's material pictures. Compared with Jackson Pollock's contemporaneous 'Figure' in particular, Tàpies's 'Collage de les creus' makes tangible a profoundly European and seemingly subjective attitude.