Born in Barcelona, Antoni Tàpies came from the Catalan intellectual elite. His father was a lawyer with secular, nationalist sympathies who worked for the republican Catalan government during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. In contrast, his mother was a devout Catholic, the daughter of a prominent rightwing separatist, who insisted on a religious education for her son throughout the upheavals of the period.
Compelled by his father to begin a law degree, Tàpies also attended a drawing course at the Academia Valls in Barcelona, where his artistic aspirations were encouraged by the poet and critic Josep M Junoy. He developed an idiom that was inspired partly by the 'primitive' art of children and, more obviously, by Paul Klee and the surrealists. At times, he used Max Ernst's grattage (or scraping) technique, and he was also influenced by his friend Joan Miró, who he met in 1948. In the same year, Tàpies co-founded the avant-garde Dau al Set group with, among others, the surrealist poet Joan Brossa.
Tàpies conceived of his work as a form of meditation on 'the void' - more specifically, 'that play of emptiness and fullness which composes everything and which reveals the meaning of nature'. He expressed this esoteric philosophy, partly inspired by Zen Buddhism, through a multiplicity of potent, often paradoxical, images, printmaking techniques or layers in his work.