From a very early age painting became a passion for Venezuelan-born Jesús Rafael Soto. It was this passion that led him to leave Ciudad Bolivar, his hometown, when he won a scholarship at the Academy of Fine Arts in Caracas in 1942. During the years at the academy, Soto met Carlos Cruz-Díez and Alejandro Otero, two other students with whom he developed a strong friendship and who, just like him, grew to become two of the most renown Venezuelan artists worldwide. In 1947 he became the Director of the School of Fine Arts in Maracaibo, and in 1949 he had his first one-man exhibition at the Taller Libre de Arte in Caracas. In 1950 he moved to Paris and joined the circle of abstract artists associated with the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles.
Immediately after moving to France he traveled to the Netherlands to interact with the works of Mondrian and Malevich. His original desire was to "dynamize" Mondrian's work, but realizing that the Neo-Plasticist painter had already managed this, Soto decided to sort out other matters unsolved by the Dutch artist. It was then that his journey to introduce optical movement into abstraction began.
His explorations of the abstract-constructivist system led him to create artworks based on the serialization and progression of geometric elements that achieve a rhythm and alter the perception of forms; with this, Soto was investigating the visual representation of motion, and the result was the triggering of a retinal effect. Furthermore, Soto had realized that each fragment is equal to the whole, and that the notion of composition is inexistent because it is an order that can be repeated ad infinitum.
The search to modify both space and the viewer's perception started with his Repetition series, moved on to the superimposition of two vibrations, two repetitions, and superimposed vibrations. Soto accomplished optical movement through the displacement of the spectator in front of the stationary work of art.
The artist confirmed that one of the components of art should be movement; it should be inherent in some element of the work itself; it should not be dependent of the imagination of the spectator. The work of art, as conceived by Soto, cannot exist without the active participation of the spectator, who, by his/her movements, causes the vibrations which have been set up by the artist. Soto's work is placed in the aesthetic principle of this movement; his pieces explore the sensorial perception through the effects of light, vision and movement, in communion with the spectator.
In 1973 he created Columna rosa with clear nylon threads that support numerous metal stems, painted white, against a grooved background. When combined, these elements originate an optical vibration that creates several effects: the perpendicular rhythm of the work is broken, the borders of the stems "disappear" when surpassing the ridged surface, yellow tones come into sight and a pink column floats in the core on the artwork.
Soto had created a structure that is a hybrid of two and three-dimensional composition: this is a work that is composed in space but that has a texture--the metal rods change the effect of light and shade--such that there is no precise place where the individual can allocate his gaze, no way he can reconstruct the reassuring limits of a clearly defined volume. The traditional utilization of mass, as well as the position and stability of volumes in space have been broken.
Jesús Rafael Soto started to reflect and analyze the manifestations of light in nature, early in his career. The artist's desire to capture light and to entice the illusion of dematerialization can be found in this beautiful evanescent artwork, which clearly presents Soto's central worries: "the return of matter to its essential state: pure energy, that immaterial eminence that makes and unmakes the universe".
Isabela Villanueva, Assistant Curator, Americas Society, New York.