Jésus Rafael Soto, A Dematerialised Experience

Born in Venezuela in 1923, Jésus Rafael Soto spent his childhood living in the country, near the Orinoco River and trained as an artist at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Artes Aplicadas in Caracas. Awarded a state scholarship, he moved to Paris in 1950 where his pioneering experiments with optical and kinetic art evolved under both the influence of Piet Mondrian’s neoplasticism and Lazló Moholy-Nagy’s theoretical work on light and movement as articulated in “Vision in Motion”. Soto’s exploration of colour as a vibratory phenomenon, which occurs in the space and time of perception, encapsulates the key elements at the core of 20th century scientific revolutions and particularly the idea that vision is not a stable phenomena but one in constant mutation.

The radical dematerialisation undertaken by the artist since the creation of his first reliefs in the 1950s reaches its climax in the ‘Penetrables’ created from 1967 onwards. Soto’s work offer a psycho-physiological experience of weightlessness escaping rational apprehension: during the moment of contemplation, the work’s effect and affect surpass the intellect’s capacity to grasp the work in its totality. The art critic Jean Clay explains that “through the play of stripes at various angles,” Soto obtained “surprising effects of unequal weight, as if each sheet corresponded to a different planet, as if each series of stripes was responding differently to the laws of universal gravity. […] A step to one side sets in motion a whole play of divergent levitations, creating the disturbing sensation that contradictory physical rules are prevailing simultaneously over the micro-space that Soto has managed to trap.”