Physichromie No. 113 is a square bas relief by Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. The work is comprised of a sequence of thin vertical coloured bands and fine raised polished stainless steel plates that repeat themselves with mathematical regularity across the surface of the work. Positioned slightly below the mid-point of the composition is a large floating circle. Like the background, the circle is composed of thin alternating vertical coloured bands and polished steel plates, but it is rendered in a contrasting colour palette. The work is designed to be viewed from multiple angles. Depending on the viewer’s position in relation to the work, the colour across its surface alters radically, transforming from one chromatic range to another as the viewer moves in front of it.
The artist originally made Physichromie No. 113 in 1963 using a combination of cardboard strips with coloured edges and thinly sliced slats of a fragile reflective material called lumaline. However, the lumaline deteriorated over time, prompting the artist to begin remaking the entire Physichromie series in 1976, including Physichromie No. 123 1964 (Tate T03715) and Physichromie No. 113, which he presented to Tate the same year. The reconstructed Physichromie No. 113 of 1976 is made of more durable inverted U-shaped pieces of aluminium, prepared with a coat of priming and a coat of white acrylic paint. The coloured bands are screenprinted with matt inks and the mirror-struts interpolated between them are stainless steel, polished on both sides. The work is inscribed on an aluminium plate attached to the back: ‘PHYSICHROMIE 113 | CRUZ-DIEZ | PARIS 1963 CD | 100 x 100cm | RECONSTRUCTION: JUIN 1976’.
Cruz-Diez began the Physichromie series in 1959 in Paris, the city that he subsequently moved to permanently from Caracas the following year. The term ‘Physichromie’ is a term invented by the artist to communicate his combined intention for the works. On the one hand, the works explore the physical effects of colour on the viewer. On the other hand, they encourage the viewer to experience colour or ‘chroma’ as unfolding and continually changing, much as colour is experienced in nature. In 1960 the artist described the Physichromie series in the following manner, highlighting the importance of their connection to a ‘real landscape’, ‘natural light’ and the movement of the viewer in front of the artwork:
The Physichromies are a light trap, a space where a series of color strips interact and transform one another. They generate new ranges of color and invade the space that surrounds the vertical bands that cover the entire work. Moreover, the movement of the viewer and the light source create a series of chromatic variations, similar to those produced in a real landscape with each revolution of the sun. They will never be exactly the same because the intensity and nature of the light that is shed upon them will never be the same. Hence the name Physichromies, because they put into play the color of light, a physical color.
(Quoted in Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani 2009, p.20.)
Further elaborating on the origin of the Physichromie series in a 1977 letter (and discussing Physichromie No. 113 directly), Cruz-Diez noted that the work was the product of intense study into the physical properties of colour, emerging directly from the experiments he had been conducting in Paris in 1963 into how to heighten the effects of ‘colour reflection’ in his works (quoted in A Decade of Physichromies by Cruz-Diez, exhibition catalogue, Signals Gallery, London 1965, p.9).
Art historian Arnauld Pierre locates Cruz-Diez’s Physichromie series historically in relation to the trajectory of French impressionist and post-impressionist ‘optical painting’ that preceded him, arguing that in Cruz-Diez’s works ‘the network of fine lines of color plays a role in optical blending analogous to that of the pattern of little maculas which cover the surface of the works of Seurat and his followers’ (Pierre 2007, p.2). Pierre also aligns the ‘lumino-chromatic phenomena’ produced by the Physichromie series to advances being made in science, printing and visual technologies in the 1960s. In particular, Pierre has compared the Physichromie series to the cathode tube of the early television screen, which was divided into a ‘phototonic line grating’ that supported the image and ‘on which the optical synthesis of color depends’ (Pierre 2007, p.2).
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, pp.135–6, reproduced p.136.
Arnauld Pierre, ‘Optical Blends and Chromatic Instabilities: The Physichromies of Carlos Cruz-Diez’, in Carlos Cruz-Diez, exhibition catalogue, Sicard Gallery, Houston 2007, pp.1–5.
Carlos Cruz-Diez: Colour Happens, exhibition catalogue, Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani, Madrid 2009.