At the end of 1956, Hélio Oiticica came to the conclusion that his use of colour was still too closely tied to representation. In the 27 works which make up his Sêcos series, Oiticica sets about a methodical ‘cleansing’ of his previous series – both in terms of colour and structure.
Using gouache on crude cardboard, he limits his range of colours to a few tones. He then breaks the areas of colour into isolated, irregular shapes and places them inside a visible or invisible grid. In doing so, he eradicates any relationship between the coloured elements and their background. By placing the forms seemingly at random, Oiticica activates the space and introduces a sense of unpredictability.
In the tense interplay of elements in this series, Oiticica explored colour, movement, and spatial rhythm, all essential concerns of his early work.
In the Metaesquemas series, Oiticica further develops his ideas with what he described as ‘an obsessive dissection of space’ by means of colour. The series comprises over 350 works; its title combines the Portuguese words ‘meta’ (beyond vision) and ‘esquema’ (structure). Oiticica considered these works as ‘something that lies in-between that is neither painting nor drawing. It is rather an evolution of painting’.
By reducing his vocabulary to a series of monochrome shapes – mainly squares and rectangles – Oiticica creates an interplay between shapes and their background that generates a sense of instability and movement, challenging their two-dimensionality.
This is partly achieved by the use of the ‘mirror effect’. Whatever rhythmic sequence the artist achieves on one side of the grid he repeats on the other side. This creates a dynamic composition, and a sense of ambivalence as to which are the painted forms (the ‘figures’) and which are the in-between areas (the ‘background’).
By the end of 1958, this series evolved into black/white, blue/white, red/white, and white/white compositions in which squares, rectangles and even the grid have been eliminated. The series of white-on-white paintings represents both the end of one stage of chromatic investigations and a new beginning for the artist.