For those in the know, Franco-Venezuelan master Carlos Cruz-Diez is to coloured lines what Havaianas are to the flip-flop. The artist, now a venerable 88 years old, is sometimes compared to younger contemporaries Dan Flavin and Olafur Eliasson for his obsession with colour and light, but his wide-ranging and often thrilling, five-decade-plus oeuvre is indisputably all his own.
Newcomers to his work can judge for themselves at the artist’s show, ‘Circumstance and Ambiguity of Colour’, at Raquel Arnaud gallery until 2 June 2012 in Vila Madalena, which will feature some 40 works never before seen in Brazil.
Born in Caracas in 1923, Cruz-Diez began his career, like so many of his peers, by studying oil painting, later graduating to Social Realist murals. Everything changed when he went to visit his friend and fellow Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto in Paris in 1955. Kinetic and optical (‘op’) art were in the air, with vibrant, exciting works being created by Alexander Calder, Jean Tinguely and Soto himself, and an inspired Cruz-Diez began to dream up new ways of expressing colour as an evolving, rather than a static state.
Back in Caracas, the artist hit upon the idea of creating the illusion of moving colours in his paintings by combining thin, painted strips of cardboard and plywood at different angles and unexpected depths.
From this simple beginning emerged Cruz-Diez’s first major (and still ongoing) series, ‘Physichromies’, in which basic geometries appear to float on a background of subtly shimmering colours that change depending on the viewer’s position. Extending the idea, the artist later moved on to more immersive masterpieces, ‘Chromosaturations’, in which walk-in environments bathed in glowing neon blues, reds and greens yield up pure colour unleashed, steeping the viewer in crisp, light and perfect hues.
|'Physichromie 76' by Carlos Cruz-Diez
Don’t be put off by the slightly ponderous titles the artist often favours. At his best, his works are not only alluring but downright joyful, with their sculptural energy and effervescent colours only imperfectly captured by photographs and videos. In the goofy-looking ‘Showers of Chromatic Induction’, spectators can enter 1960s-retro circular booths lined with coloured strips to play with one of Cruz-Diez’s favourite optical illusions: the after-image phenomenon, in which the retina – after being exposed to different colour combinations – is induced to see colours that are not there.
Those who find their appetites whetted by this exhibition will be delighted to learn that this is just an hors d’oeuvre. More than 150 works of the artist’s multi-faceted career will be on view at the Pinacoteca for two months starting in mid-July, 2012, when the institution hosts the first full retrospective of the artist’s career, organised by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 2011. Colour fiends, take note now.