"My work and my research have permitted me to note that color is not simply the 'color of things,'" Carlos Cruz-Diez explained in 1971. "Color is a situation which evolves, a reality which acts upon the human being."(1) For the past fifty years, Cruz-Diez has probed the perceptual and situational properties of color in space, experimenting with the illusions of sensory perception to induce sometimes dazzling psychophysiological effects. More than mere optical illusion, the kinetic effects triggered by the chromatic vibrations and radiations of his idiosyncratic works speak to the dynamic experience of color under changing pressures of time and space. "One of the purposes of my art is to expand the field of human experience, making it more subtle and complex," Cruz-Diez has stated, and the interactive space of his work-- from the first Physicromies to the later Chromosaturations and other series--speaks suggestively to the psychic and transformative power of the chromatic field.(2)
Cruz-Diez belongs to the generation of Latin American artists active in postwar Paris, and along with his contemporaries Jesús Rafael Soto, Julio Le Parc and Alejandro Otero he ranks among the first to have channeled geometric abstraction into kinetic art. Trained as a graphic designer, he first encountered the radical innovations of early Op and Kinetic art while living in Barcelona between 1955 and 1957. Traveling frequently to Paris, he came into contact with the international circle of abstract artists associated with the Galerie Denise René. Stimulated by their innovative experiments with abstraction and by the science of modern color theory, he began to investigate the shifting effects of color under different sensory conditions. Returning to Caracas, where he would stay until moving definitively to Paris in 1960, he continued to research the role of color in kinetic art, eventually arriving at the breakthrough series, Physichromies, in 1959.
During this critical period in Venezuela, Cruz-Diez began to explore the phenomenological effects of placing colors in parallel strips and at right angles to a flat ground, introducing a structural relief element into his work. He christened this series Physichromies, derived from the words "physical chromatism," and he has continued to explore its infinite permutations and possibilities ever since. "Physichromies are changing structures which project color into space," Cruz-Diez has explained. "They create an atmosphere of colored light which changes with the intensity and the position of the illuminating source, and the position and distance of the spectator."(3) In this series, to which the present work may be included, the perceptual experience becomes the viewer's own: the chromatic field shimmers and fluctuates with the movement of the viewer and the relative angle and modulation of the ambient light.
Light catalyzes the kaleidoscopic colors of Physichromie No. 2266, which emerge from an electric purple haze generated by the red and blue background. Six rectangles in iridescent colors stagger one on top of the other, setting off a virtual color wheel in motion: overlapping primary colors create gleaming, secondary tones of orange, green and purple that continually flicker, moving virtually in and out of view. The chromatic gradations are perceived dynamically and in real time as the spectator's viewpoint changes; indeed, it is through the viewer's experience that the work is ultimately achieved. "That which takes place between this situation in evolution and the complicity and involvement of each spectator constitutes, for me, a new notion of art," Cruz-Diez has asserted.(4) The reflexive color-space of the shallow relief, in constant flux and in liaison with its environment, invites a maximal sensory and participatory experience. In the glimmering brilliance of the chromatic field, color is both autonomous and interactive; changing according to individual perception, each encounter with the work becomes a dynamic and singular event.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1) C. Cruz-Diez, "Toward a New Knowledge of Color," Cruz-Diez: Physichromies, Couleur Additive, Induction Chromatique, Chromointerferences, New York, Galerie Denise René, 1971.
2) C. Cruz-Diez, "Reflections on Color," Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2001, 165.
3) C. Cruz-Diez, "Physichromies," Cruz-Diez Physichromies, Couleur Additive, Induction Chromatique, Chromointerferences.
4) C. Cruz-Diez, "Toward a New Knowledge of Color."