Spanish leaders and the entire art world mourned Tuesday the passing of the great avant-garde painter and sculptor Antoni Tapies, who died Monday in Barcelona, aged 88. “His work and career will remain in the memories of all in Spain as well as the rest of the world as a benchmark of indelible excellence in the plastic arts,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Tapies was “my country’s greatest master of painting,” fellow Catalan painter Miquel Barcelo wrote in homage. “[He was] a whole man.” 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 3-meter-high model of a sock with a hole in its heel. The sock was a favorite 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. “His work maintained a structural ambiguity that made it hard to absorb in a system that needs rules and comfort,” the museum director added in an article for leading daily El Pais. “Moving between the objectural, the pictorial and the written, his canvases had something of sculptural or tactile [elements] and show the rules of painting fleeing from any kind of idealism.” Tapies was associated early on in his career with such 20th-century art greats as 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. 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.