Page 12 - Studio International - January 1966
P. 12

J-R. Soto: creating 'imaginary space'

                               by Jean Clay

                                                                                  For 15 years an artist works on imperturbably, devoting
                                                                                  his whole being to the high dignity of his art, and
                                                                                  achieves—developing through a process of silent self-
                                                                                  criticism—genuine stature with a body of work whose
                                                                                  contemporary relevance and coherence are second to
                                                                                  none in our age.
                                                                                   The Signals Gallery exhibition in London (Oct.-Dec.)
                                                                                  was necessary to reveal the full measure of this coher-
                                                                                  ence and do justice to the restrained art of a master
                                                                                  who might otherwise have passed unnoticed for a
                                                                                  long time among the tom-toms of tachist derision and
                                                                                  the Parisian antics of the 'new figurative' movement.
                                                                                   Three whole floors ; this much space was needed to
                                                                                  reflect a rigorous development which, starting out from
                                                                                  the works of Mondrian, resulted some years later in the
                                                                                  'kinetic vibrations' which the artist creates today, the
                                                                                  influence of which is felt more and more strongly by the
                                                                                  young generations which throughout Europe devote
                                                                                  themselves to the art of 'movement.'
                                                                                   For Soto everything began in 1950 when he arrived
                                                                                  in Paris. ('Paris,' he said, 'was synonymous with a
                                                                                  search for new forms, it resounded with the still
                                                                                  mysterious name of Mondrian . . . My attention was
                                                                                  drawn favourably to Mondrian, because the forms
                                                                                  which he created were truly abstract. He stood alone.
                                                                                  With Dewasne and Vasarely the forms were a manifest
                                                                                  reflection of reality ...') The problem facing him at this
       The Venezuelan artist J-R. Soto with two                                   time was how to break the bonds of form, to destroy
       low-reliefs of 1951 using the repetition
       principle. These are key works in the                                      the density of matter, to reduce those rigid, motionless
       development of his later Vibrations                                        surfaces which Mondrian expressed with such-definitive
                                                                                  conviction in his classic compositions.
                                                                                   To begin with Soto used the principle of the series
       Movements in Opposition
       White and Black 1965                                                       (excellent examples were on show at the Signals
       Painted metal relief on wood                                               Gallery). By repeating the same element again and
       26 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.
       Collection: Mrs. J-R. Soto, Paris                                          again he reduces its importance and approaches a
                                                                                  relative concept of form. Fundamentally his search is
                                                                                  turning towards optical art. A concrete step forward is
                                                                                  reached with his 'superimpositions'. A regular grid of
                                                                                  small dots, all identical, applied to a surface of plastic
                                                                                  material, is set at a varying angle over a second grid
                                                                                  which also contains a large number of dots. The density
                                                                                  of concentration of dots—i.e. of mass—varies at
                                                                                  different points in the work. Form tends to be broken
                                                                                  up until, in 1954, with 'white dots against black dots'
                                                                                  Soto creates his first kinetic composition*. This time
                                                                                  his transparent grid covered with white dots in a
                                                                                  regular pattern is not fixed directly to the backing panel,
                                                                                  but instead some 8 cms. in front of it. The effect of
                                                                                  vibration is now obtained by movement of the spectator.

                                                                                  * 'Kinetic' : the word was used by Gabo in 1920 in his Manifesto
                                                                                  of Realism, and also by Moholy-Nagy ('Vision in Motion' 1947).
                                                                                  To both artists it signifies the same thing : the integration of real
                                                                                  movement, i.e. involving time, with the plastic arts. Time is
                                                                                  entrapped within the kinetic work of art—either because the com-
                                                                                  position itself moves, or because the spectator must move to grasp
                                                                                  its significance. The work represents a fundamental process of
                                                                                  transformation and cannot be understood without the concept of
                                                                                  duration. Space takes on an element of time, while time becomes
                                                                                  inextricably linked with space. One must not confuse—as too
                                                                                  many critics still do—kinetics with optical art, which is based on
                                                                                  the deliberate juxtaposition of contradictory colours (red and
                                                                                  green, for example) which the eye cannot absorb simultaneously
                                                                                  and therefore immediately set up a 'vibration' on the retina. It is
                                                                                  precisely because the two colours are presented  simultaneously
                                                                                  that the optical effect is produced and the surface of the canvas
                                                                                  is disintegrated. Here time is not involved. The work is accepted
                                                                                  in its totality the moment the eye sees it.
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