Jesus Rafael Soto

Tes Pequenas Blancas y Negras, 1979

Jesus Rafael Soto from Venezuela is the first Latin-American constructivist artist of note. He moved to Paris in 1950 and played an important role in the development of optic-kinetic art which was centred in Paris at this time. Motivated by his studies of Mondrian, Malevitch, and the Bauhaus he created a geometric pattern in 1951 which consists of a continuous repetition of a basic element. The latter just consists of a structuring of the surface and can be repeated endlessly. The picture can thus be understood as an excerpt. Soto referred to this infinite property in his works as their „universal character“. His serial ordering system results in the basic elements losing their individuality and leads one to regard them as part of a whole.

Thus we note here that, at a first glance, we do not see the T-shaped wires singly but rather the effect which they create altogether. Placed exactly over the black and white stripes of the background, they give rise to an irritating feeling of movement when changing position. This is caused by the fact that, when concentrating on exactly one of the vertical stripes of the picture, this is obscured by the wires above it in such a way that the background colour seems to be uninterrupted. When, however, one moves one’s head lightly from side to side, the stripe below the wire reappears. This relative movement of planes and the obscuring and revealing of stripes on the background creates a sense of vibration in the viewer’s eye, which causes the picture to shimmer and to move forwards and backwards in space.

Whenever Soto uses other colours in addition to black and white, he does so very pointedly. In his early works he placed coloured rectangles in front of a striped black and white background. These rectangles are also floating above their background and their edges are bevelled in such a way that, again, a sense of movement is generated. These works, however, do not have a „universal character“ as they are closed compositions.

Soto has also composed complete spatial installations. There are, for example, labyrinthine constructions involving curtains of countless hanging nylon strings, much to the irritation of the viewer when he tries to penetrate these. He seems to have entered an intangible, shimmering spatial structure.

A different experience is provided by his thin hanging metal rods, like in the picture below. Here one walks around the object and discovers vibrating movement within the work of art as well as in the space behind it.

For Jesus Rafael Soto this irritation of the viewer’s eye is one of the main objectives in his kinetic art. He analyses normal static ways of viewing things and thus creates his kinetic compositions. In the eye of the viewer his pictures represent something intangible and in continuous motion, and yet there is the concrete picture in front of them. Illustrations or virtual representations of his works of art cannot impart this kinetic quality. Soto’s pictures require the participation of the viewer to bring them to completion.