Carlos Cruz-Diez, 'Physichromie No. 123' 1964

Carlos Cruz-Diez
Physichromie No. 123 1964
Mixed media on board
object: 400 x 230 x 40 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

To coincide with the display, Tate Etc. talked to the Venezuelan-born artist Carlos Cruz-Diez (born 1923) about his early exhibition at Signals London in 1965, his works and his lifelong exploration of colour

Tate Etc.
Could you describe how Physichromie No. 123 was actually made? You invented a special machine to create it…

Carlos Cruz-Diez
That was the happy result of an accident. I produced Physichromie No. 123 in 1963, using materials that were available at the time – cardboard strips with coloured edges, with which I built the Chromatic Event Modules, and exterior sheets of a rather fragile reflective material called Lumaline that I placed between each module. One day a heavy box of packing material fell on the work and reduced it to rubble; it stayed like that in the workshop for years. When I started using aluminium U-shaped sections instead of cardboard or PVC strips, I returned to the project and rebuilt it, replacing the fragile Lumaline with sheets of highly polished stainless steel that were like mirrors. All my works are produced according to a plan and then coded – thus eliminating all romantic traces of the artist’s hand – so they can be reconstructed should they deteriorate over time. We know that many of the materials that artists use today are perishable, so, as a precaution, I record the construction specifics and the colour codes of all my works in a log that is kept in the archives of the Cruz-Diez Workshop and the Cruz-Diez Foundation. My works are built by hand in a slow, complex process requiring tools that are sometimes simply not available. I have, therefore, had to design many of the devices I need for each stage of the assembly, such as a section folder with rollers, several presses for silkscreen printing, a number of dyes…

Installation view of Carlos Cruz-Diez's Chromatic Environment for Machine Room Number One at the Raul Leoni Hydroelectric power station, Guri, Venezuela

Installation view
Carlos Cruz-Diez
Chromatic Environment for Machine Room Number One 1977-1986
Raul Leoni Hydroelectric power station, Guri, Venezuela
2,600 x 26,000 x 2,300cm

Tate Etc.
What was your intention behind the creation of the Physichromie series of works? You have talked about the ‘aim to project colour from line into space’.

Carlos Cruz-Diez
The series is the result of a great deal of time spent thinking about the concept of colour in painting. We were, it seemed to me, in the grip of a millennial stagnation and were still in thrall to this concept. If colour in nature appears before our eyes as a mutating event that colours the space we inhabit and exists in a constant state of change, why does painting treat it like an absolute event and transform it into something that the artist places on a plane by applying brush to canvas? Might it be possible to create the same pleasure that colour stimulates by making colour express itself in all its surprising mutations, behaving exactly as it does in reality? If the space we inhabit is coloured, why insist on enclosing colour in a static, two-dimensional support? Colour should fully occupy its environment, which is space. The solution expressed in Physichromie No. 123 was the result of the thinking, the experiments, and the successes and failures that began in Caracas in 1954.

Tate Etc.
You showed at Signals London in 1965. What are your memories of this?

Carlos Cruz-Diez
Paul Keeler and the important artist David Medalla, the driving forces behind the Signals gallery, were the first in London to introduce the renovating spirit of Kineticism and Nouvelle Tendance [New Trend] through works that we were producing in Paris in the 1960s. The various solo and thematic exhibitions exposed Europe to important Latin American artists such as Lygia Clark and Sergio de Camargo. Many of these shows travelled to several cities in the United Kingdom. My work and works by Jesús Rafael Soto, Julio Le Parc, Takis, Mathias Goeritz, Alejandro Otero and the Grupo Madí – as well as all those exhibitions – were revealing events that expressed our ideas and goals. The gallery was so important that it became an historical point of reference, and the magazine published by Signals is an indispensable resource in any review of art from the 1950s and 1960s.