Soto belongs to the generation of young Latin American artists that burst upon Paris in the 1950s, channeling geometric abstraction into the radical innovations of Kineticism and Op art. After training at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, Soto followed his classmate and fellow abstractionist Alejandro Otero to Paris in 1950, where he was drawn into the orbit of the Salon des Realités Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise René, the cradle of postwar geometric abstraction. Working alongside an international group of artists that included Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely and Julio Le Parc, Soto explored the perceptual problems first proposed in the work of Piet Mondrian and radicalized by the optical experiments of Victor Vasarely, searching for the means of pushing abstraction beyond mere illusionism. "I was trying to find ways to achieve true abstraction," Soto explained of his early works. "To begin with, what I had to do was, of course, to completely dissociate drawing from its traditional function of representing everyday reality. . . . In the same way, in order to achieve abstraction, I thought it was important to find a graphic system that would allow me to codify a reality rather than represent it."(1)
The Escrituras are singularly fascinating in this regard, because inasmuch as their optical vibrations and disembodied movement demonstrate Soto's mature command of abstraction, the hand of the artist makes a canny return in the calligraphic metal lines that give the series its name. The superimposition of two languages of abstraction--one gestural and the other, geometric--distinguishes the Escrituras within Soto's oeuvre, punctuating the pure opticality of the painted surface with the intimate, expressive quality of his cursive line. "The displacement between the impersonal hatched screen of the background and the rods--folded or bent, as Soto freely decided--made it possible for him to create a language capable of expressing the maximum individuality compatible with his goal of universality," Claude-Louis Renard first observed of the Escrituras. "They can be read as a very definite return to the direct line traced by the artist's hand, and while also remaining a coherent element in Soto's goal of disindividualization, these exist as a more immediate transcription of his personal sensibility, as though he has allowed his hand, more or less consciously, to act with greater freedom."(2)
Like the introduction of organic materials such as wood and burlap into his Vibrations and other works, the scrawled linear forms of the Escrituras mark an intimate, organic incursion into an otherwise concrete geometric space. "For me the Escrituras are a way of drawing in space," Soto once explained, "but even within this freedom, I still continue, you see, to retain a structure and to control the elements within it."(3) That tension between three-dimensional, constructive space and the subjectivity of the artist's running script is skillfully balanced in the present Escritura blanca al centro, in which the pure vibrations of the monochromatic black-and-white panels offset the graphic personality of the metal lines. The reflexivity of the intricate and undulating line, flickering with each movement of the viewer, invites a perceptual experience in which each encounter with the piece becomes a dynamic and singular event. Like the contemporary work of León Ferrari and Gego, Soto's Escrituras series explores the values of line as both gestural expression and transparent medium of light and space. In these works, Soto's line also becomes a kinetic intervention into the viewer's field of vision, engaging the invisible space between the scripts of wire and the vertical lines of the background and powerfully transforming the elements of painting--light, space, line--into pure perceptual experience.
1) J. R. Soto, quoted in Hans Ulrich Obrist, "Ever Soto," in Jesús Rafael Soto: Visione in Movimiento, Cinisello Balsamo, Italy, Silvana Editoriale, 2006, 42.
2) C-L. Renard, "Excerpts from an Interview with Soto," in Soto: A Retrospective Exhibition, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1974, 17.
3) Soto, quoted in Renard, "Excerpts from an Interview with Soto," 17.