Jesús Rafael Soto - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Maxwell Davidson Gallery, New York
    Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale
    Private Collection, Texas

  • Catalogue Essay

    Azul con Rojo, 1991, is a sumptuous example of Jesús Rafael Soto’s texturally and chromatically vibrant oeuvre. One of the leading forces of the Kinetic art movement at the dawn of its development in South-America, the artist experimented with painting in unprecedented ways, notably departing from the medium's reduction of the picture plane to a flat receptacle. Superimposing clear blocks of carmine red and electric blue atop a fragmented background, Azul con Rojo spans myriad subtly delineated shades of white and black enveloping the work's striking dual chromaticity. Through the use of primary colours, varying scales, multifarious media, and kinetics, Soto conjures a vibrant organism that absorbs the viewer into its pervasive centre of gravity.

    While studying fine arts in Caracas in the mid-1940s, Soto was deeply impressed by the aesthetics of Impressionism. Yet, as the movement favoured a soft, unaggressive light that resembled the subtle rays of the south of France, the artist lacked a relatable reference that could conjure the warmth of his tropical sun. He thus turned away from Impressionist imagery and instead gravitated towards Cubism, which broke the world up into planes in a way that aligned with his perception of surrounding landscapes. Throughout his career, he explored the manifestations of the physical world around him: through an ingenious method of repetition, he created a flow of energies dictated by vertical and horizontal lines, often enhanced by antithetic colours and differently textured media that transposed the dynamism he envisioned directly onto inanimate surfaces. ‘At that time I was looking for vibration through repetition. I was interested in the problem of vibration and the study of light, something that had fascinated me in the work of Velázquez, and that the impressionists, whom I have always respected, studied very consciously’ (Jesús Rafael Soto, quoted in Ariel Jimenez, Conversaciones con Jesús Rafael Soto, Caracas, 2005, p. 154). These creations emerged with the intention of dynamising Piet Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticist compositions, which he had discovered on a decisive trip to Holland in 1951. Yet, soon, the artist transcended his own initiative, as he realised that Mondrian had already achieved vitality in art. His new intent was to make two-dimensional supports break into movement, so as to truly materialise motion.

    By making paintings focus on grids, dots, lines and squares, and limiting his palette to eight basic colours, – in the case of Azul con Rojo, a mere two – Soto was able to re-calibrate the viewer’s traditional understanding and apprehension of space. He could either trick the eye into perceiving movement where there was none, or create a composition that was impossible to grasp from a single viewpoint, thus forcing the viewer to move around it. In order to render his illusions more potent, Soto drew from the fields of mathematics and music. As the majority of his work is laden with elements of balance, harmony and vibrancy, through the arrangement of symmetrical shapes and dissonant hues, it seems only natural that these disciplines would inspire him and nourish his versatile approach. He used the mathematical concepts of progression in his paintings of geometric elements repeated across the picture plane, and then in the present series, based on the square. Conversely, music suggested the potential for infinite variation through the codification of basic colours into a serial system. The artist superimposed and distributed coloured elements in an effort to generate the optical impression of movement and rhythm and soon discovered that he could increase this impression by arranging the sheets at a distance from one another. Azul con Rojo, pulsating with vigorous energy, presents a kind of vibration that is not heard as sound but seen, materialised like ripples in water.

  • Artist Biography

    Jesús Rafael Soto

    Venezuelan • 1923 - 2005

    Jesús Rafael Soto was born in Ciudad Bolívar and studied at the School of Visual and Applied Arts in Caracas. During this period he became acquainted with Los Disidentes, a group of artists that included Alejandro Otero and Carlos Cruz-Diez. In addition to his fellow compatriots, Soto’'s work was influenced by Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian.

    The main artistic tenets evinced in Soto's works are pure abstraction, vibrations, progressions and geometric rigor. They can be seen through the use of lines and superimposed squares in his sculptures, made with paint and a series of industrial and synthetic materials. He spent much time in Europe, becoming a key member of the Group Zero movement, which included such artists as Lucio Fontana, Gunther Uecker and Yves Klein. As a result, Soto's work also incorporates modernist concepts such as light, time, movement, color manipulation and space. All of these facets place him as an important figure within the Kinetic and Op Art movements.

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Azul con Rojo

signed, titled and dated '"AZUL CON ROJO" Soto 1991' on the reverse
enamel on wood
202.8 x 151.8 x 17 cm (79 7/8 x 59 3/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1991.

£300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for £435,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019