Translated from the Spanish by Beth Pollack
Rose Mary Salum: In the long run, Cruz Diez managed to transform not only art in Venezuela but, also worldwide. We know that his pictorial language is the result of years of research and the search to express color in all its movement. How does Cruz Diez come to create his visual language? How does he shape the changing condition of the chromatic experience on canvas?
Carlos Cruz Diez: Arriving at these conclusions is the result of lengthy reflection, very time consuming in readings and failures, because one comes to perfection of what he wants through the accumulations of multiple failures. To arrive at a convenient solution one has to doubt until finally uncovering the structure that confirms and conforms to the concepts that one has of art, or at least what one thinks is art. For me, art was being a painter. I am a painter. I was trained as a painter. I define myself as a painter and the fundamental instrument of a painter is color. It was from that point that I was able to see the possibility of modifying concepts, because what the artist does in his trajectory is precisely to find new projections, new concepts for the spirit and the introduction of knowledge. Because art, as it has been said by great artists, is knowledge, it’s true state of knowledge. Color is not something permanent nor eternal like the notion we, in Western society, have that everything is eternal. Color is a circumstance and all I have found supports this evidence in this changing, mutating and ephemeral condition which is the world of color.
RMS. The pointillists used the dot, why does Cruz Diez use the line?
CCD. One of the starting points for my inquiry were the impressionists, the post-impressionists, fauvism, and artists like Delacroix who saw, in color, the possibility to modify painting and art itself. The pointillists and those subsequent to impressionism discovered and demonstrated that color was changing yet precisely in its contradiction. That is to say, every generation creates a contradiction. The impressionists expressed color in a dynamic condition, but contained it in a static medium. An impressionist wanted to express the fragility of light; however it was captured in an eternal medium; unable to be modified. Pointillism did the same thing. What I attempted to do was to move beyond impressionism and search for the paradox. In that modification of impressionism, I provoked a contradiction, like Malevich’s White on White. That is, it is contradictory to have a metaphysical concept and express it materially through a static medium. Nevertheless, those contradictions, gave me the path to find a medium that also was a creator of ephemeral situations. And beginning with that moment, all my work is based on the construction of ephemeral situations in order to give color its real condition which is unstable, mutable.
RMS. But, why the line? Does it serve to that purpose?
CCD. The line is not an absolutely aesthetic element; it is an element of efficacy. I created points or circles because the line is an essential and unadorned element, unique, to show the metamorphosis, the transformation of color. If these were curved or zig zags they would not add anything to the discourse of color, color as a transformative situation.
RMS. Then Cruz Diez’s art pays tribute to Heraclitus who says that everything is movement.
CCD. Yes, of course. Everything is motion. Color isn’t a static entity, it evolves. One of the things I planned in my work is not to give meanings. Forms have meaning. In my opinion, the only meaning that exists is the dialectics between the spectator and the piece of work. When one looks at those straight lines, they do not have meaning, except that they are the most basic of objects which generates a situation. And, the situation generated by these parallel lines promotes a multiplicity of sensations, perceptions and points of departure for mythification. That is to say they are supporting an occurrence and are the medium for the creation of a myth. These objects serve as a sort of light trap to provoke other notions about color and things.
RMS. Another of your propositions is the autonomy of color. This appears extraordinary to me, and at times contradictory. When one looks at your work, you are caught in its magnetic field; it is the energy that your pictures invite. If one of your intentions is the autonomy of color, and this cannot exist without the spectator, have you established a codependency?
CCD. This is the precisely intention; the contribution of kinetic art to universal art is creating a spectator who participates in the work. From a passive and contemplative attitude, they are led into an active and participative attitude. This involves the spectator in the structure the artist has put into play; because let us not forget that a painting is a reflection, be it a painting of an insignificant flower, of a landscape or by an amateur artist. There we find contained an insight that ranges from the most elemental to the most complex of things, and it is the case of my work that it is a vision of tremendous complexity; it is an expression that has taken a lot of time and refers to many physical types of behavior. Painting stops man’s invention: time. It is the best invention to stop time, an impossible task. And when man figured out that it was impossible to stop time, he invented painting as a testimony to what already had taken place. That is what the canvas is. My purpose with these works is to demonstrate that time does not exist; there is no past or future, there is only the present, and this instant. It is the color making itself in this moment. It is our life. Our life is constructed in the moment; neither past nor future. History begins and ends with one as an individual.
RMS. So then, there is a yearning for eternity; your search is to transcend time.
CCD. Exactly, the search is in accordance with man’s nature. I am trying to propose something that is in harmony with oneself. It is like sound; it is more in agreement with humans because painting is a static medium. However, although I have found the medium static, in order to demonstrate the transformation of color in time, there are other works like pigmentations, there is no medium, it is the same colored space where logos and physical presence create multiple solutions, matrices and, unwritten sensations about the medium that are not present, not there, they are within us.
RMS. Andy Warhol and pop art representatives created a visual language that strongly critiqued the mass production of art. How would you, Cruz Diez, respond to this inquiry when all contemporary artists have studios and create art in series?
CCD. Each artist puts his own reflection into his work. Warhol puts in his work the reflection of his time and society. He bases himself on the assertions of Marcel Duchamp who destroys the academic structure of art. He had a formula and with it lights as the work of art. Andy Warhol again takes it up in order to create a satire and a criticism of his environment. At the same time, he understood something fundamental. This is a media oriented society based on success in the media. This is a contemporary society and like every artist he put his own perspective into play.
RMS. Your studio is a family endeavor where all your children and grandchildren participate. This must be a very poignant experience.
CCD. That was the plan. I tell the young people who surround me that when I fell in love with my wife, I presented her with this life project; I told her that art and life are not separate. I didn’t think about only being a painter from only 10 to 12. I live and die with art and life is the same thing. “Let’s make my work and yours, my children and grandchildren, one thing.” And it has been like that. It has been an experience that happily has followed a good path. Working in a studio was not my own invention; it was done in the XVI century when studios belonged to families and their team. That’s what happened with Sebastian Bach, he and his family composed music and all the Flemish artists had their families and assistants and together they made up a studio. And, that’s what has happened in my studio. It contains many artist friends and they have created their work, because a studio serves so that young people can create their work. I have two granddaughters who are studying art and work there. They are learning and the wealth of what they do remain there. Because creating a painting is not only oil on canvas, there is a lot of expertise and complex production. You have to use the computer; you have to use metalwork, lithography, photography, use a number of trades created as they have in the past. The artists themselves construct their painting, the canvases; they make everything in the studio. I have had to fabricate by hand my own tools that are extremely complex in an almost sculptural way. I don’t want the piece of work to be handmade but to be an event where there is a complex work behind it that helps to shape an artist.
RMS. How has the Chávez regime affected artistic expression in Venezuela?
CCD. There is a new politic, there are some very interesting things going on like the creation of national museums, but the situation is unstable and we do not know what is going to happen there. There is a national project under development. It would not be proper to pass judgment because we will have to wait. A new nation cannot be built in only a few years. You have to wait and see what will happen with time. It could be very advantageous for the country, I believe, it will be good because the country needed change. Venezuelan society needed to be shaken up, it had taken its situation for granted and had forgotten about the poor. Now we have the hope that this will be a good transformation for the country, and of course, if it is for the country, it will also be for art.
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