Soto belongs to the generation of young Latin American artists that burst upon the Paris scene in the 1950s, channeling concrete geometries into the radical innovations of Kineticism and Op art. After training at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, Soto moved to Paris in 1950 where he was drawn into the orbit of the Salon des Réalités 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 had to throw myself into the process of abstraction at the highest point of the moment, as I found it in the fifties, to see how I could move it forward," he later explained. "I wanted to put color in motion I was already against that idea of the plane as a projection of visual reality."
The present work numbers among Soto's most characteristic experiments in optical kinesis. A diptych, Tiges bleues et blanches is constructed of two monochromatic wood panels covered with thin, horizontal, parallel lines, in front of which are suspended fine metal rods that vibrate, almost imperceptibly, in space. The oscillations of the slightly curved wires--blue rods before the black panel, white rods before the white panel--create a flickering moiré effect through dynamic oppositions of color and form, time and movement. This virtualization of color energizes the incremental space between the metal wires and the matte monochromes, activating as well a perceptual dialogue between the artwork and the viewer. In this sense, Tiges bleues et blanches manifests the ultimate dematerialization of color: the perpetual movement of blue and white rods against the background panels kindles the optical transformation of color in space and time.
"Soto's achievement has been to give a luminous imaginative force to the idea of continuum," critic Guy Brett remarked of Soto's works from this period. "Forms are not localizable, it's not possible to say: there are the forms and this is the space that contains them. Forms and space are continually creating each other, changing into each other." That sensation of constant flux aptly describes the amorphous space betwixt and between Soto's images, the continuum that transforms the elements of painting--color, space, line--into pure perceptual experience. As Brett concludes, "It has always been part of the poetry of Soto's work to be half in the world and half out of it. The rods oscillate between the abstract world of relations and the world of things. Unpredictable currents from the world of things activate and bring to life the painting's space."
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1) Jesús Rafael Soto, quoted in Ariel Jiménez, Conversations with Jesús Soto (Caracas: Fundación Cisneros, 2005), 168, 170.
2) Guy Brett, Soto, October-November 1969 (New York: Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969), 15-16.