One of the pioneering figures of kinetic and op art, Carlos Cruz-Diez was born in Caracas in 1923. After graduating from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Aplicadas in 1945 he worked as a graphic designer for companies such as the Creole Petroleum Corporation, the McCann-Erickson Advertising Agency, the Mene Grande Oil Company, as well as the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. In 1957 he opened the Estudio de Artes Visuales, a graphic and industrial design office in Caracas and was a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, until 1960 when he moved to Paris. Cruz-Diez was part of a generation of Venezuelan artists highly influenced by the constructivist ethos, who saw themselves working within the legacies of artists such as Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Georges Vantongerloo, Naum Gabo, and Antoine Pevsner. They sought to take the country into artistic modernity by way of formal experimentation with color, light, industrial materials, and techniques, but at the same time they shared an awareness of the country's social realities which led them to teach, and publish writings that disseminated their views on art to the general public.
Cruz-Diez was interested in optical experiments and in producing a haptic experience through chromatic manipulation. In the late 50s he read articles by Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera, on creating the entire color spectrum from a combination of red and green monochromes. These were instrumental in the development of his Physichromie series, which he initiated in 1959. The word is a neologism coined by the artist combining the words "physical chromatism" which he used to describe the process by which he combined parallel strips of color that were perpendicular to the pictorial surface, and that in the combination of colors, angles of refraction and the movement of the spectator would produce "physical sensations of chromatic changes." The first Physichromies were made using only red and green with white and black, as Cruz-Diez was interested in the additive properties of color using one primary color (red), one secondary color (green), white for reflection and black for absorption, however in subsequent works from this series he would employ a wider palette. This is the case for Physichromie 164 (1965) in which he uses different colors alternated with black and white to achieve chromatic addition.
In 1965, Cruz-Diez's Physichromies were shown on two occasions at London's Signals Gallery: in the landmark exhibition Soundings Two, alongside the work of Lygia Clark, Sergio Camargo, Mathias Goeritz, Jesús Rafael Soto, Takis, Hélio Oiticica, David Medalla, among others; and the solo exhibition of his Physichromies. Signals devoted an issue of its journal, edited by artist David Medalla, to the Physichromies exhibition. The publication maps out the wide range of subjects and associations that emerge from an analysis of the Physichromies--from physics to light and colour--evidenced by the wealth of articles that complemented the exhibition of this body of work, including essays by Frank Popper and the quite singular reprint of an excerpt from Christiaan Huygens' 1678 The Treatise on Light, and physicist Werner Heisenberg's article on the "role of modern physics in the present development of human thinking," all of which reflect Cruz-Diez's ongoing investment in a scientific approach to his chromatic experimentation.
Julieta González, independent curator