Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto once said he could not recall when he first learned that he must be a painter, but that at seventeen it had become clearly and firmly revealed to him. His passion for art quickly took him from his home town of Ciudad Bolívar, to the capital city of Caracas to attend the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Artes Aplicadas. While at the Escuela he studied Cézanne and the Cubists, and became interested in reductive and geometric modes of expression. In his own words: "I was looking for abstraction...I wanted to eliminate the elements to find the true meaning of painting."(1) But Soto's process towards abstraction was not fortuitous; ever since he had begun painting, he was concerned with the composition and organization of planes in space.
In 1950 he moved to Paris and became associated with the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise René. While in France he came directly in contact with Constructivism; and he traveled to the Netherlands to study Mondrian's work, appreciating his role in the achievement of pure abstraction. Soto dared to go further by exploring dynamism in three dimensions. The artist had also seen how Calder integrated time and movement in sculpture and wanted to attempt the same in painting.
He began creating pieces based on repetitions, rotations, serializations and progressions, which would become the foundation on which his future work would stand. With these, he accomplished the invasion of space beyond the boundaries of the canvas using consecutive elements. By 1955 his interest in tri-dimensionality had increased, together with intense experimentation with the use of light. After reading Moholy-Nagy's Vision in Motion, he started looking for movement. Soto realized painting had taken a new direction, its concept as a static pictorial composition had mutated to that of a vigorous field activated by light and movement.
In 1963 Soto was awarded the Grand Wolf prize at the VII Bienal de São Paulo, and the following year he received the David E. Bright Foundation Award at the XXXII Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia. By the early 1970s the outstanding artist had gained world-wide recognition and acceptance.
Completed in 1970, Triangles and Circles is a piece that ignores the traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture. It synthesizes Soto's interest in the breakdown of the traditional relationship among objects in the pictorial space. It confirms the instability of visual apprehension and proves the importance of the viewer in the appearance, alteration and fading of the virtual image. Soto chose black and white to attain a vibratory effect that would incorporate virtual motion into the work and that would affect the spectator's perception of space. The artist used a moiré effect to create a basic visual illusion, trying to dissipate the artwork's materials into vibrations. By overlaying different layers of dangling rods before a striated background, an infinite possibility of vibrations and variations occur: the slender metal rods tremble incessantly over the black and white stripes of the background. As the spectator moves around this massive work he enters into his play, provokes it and completes it.
For this 1970 piece Soto employed welded metal rods. The significance of employing hanging rods is in the interaction they create when observing them. Spatial uncertainty, vibration and dematerialization of the forms were mastered by Soto through superimposition that allowed the creation of space between the elements. Space becomes fluid and unstable, both pictorial and physical at the same time.
The artwork liberates Soto from the confines of the surface, allowing him to "outline" space. The artist's illusionism plays with the physical shortcomings of the eyes, creating a space in constant flux that one perceives as two-dimensional. It is the surface of this piece that appears to be in motion. Soto then managed to free himself from figuration by removing unnecessary distractions from the surface and distancing his works from external reality.
Isabella Villanueva, Assistant Curator, The Americas Society, NY.
1) J. Soto to A. Jiménez, Conversations with Jesús Soto (Caracas: Fundación Cisneros, 2001), p. 153.