Arts / Galleries

Latin America’s Greatest Living Artist Brings Dizzying Light to Houston

Technology Obsessed 93-Year-Old is Full of Surprises

BY // 05.12.17

Ninety-three-year-old Carlos Cruz-Diez is the Venezuelan king of light, space, and — most of all — color. His lifetime of projects range from painting geometric rainbow bands on prosaic sidewalks, silos, ships, and planes to crafting utopian chambers of pigmented, dizzying light rays. This month his latest works unveil at longstanding dealer, Houston’s Sicardi Gallery. Via email, the maestro converses with Catherine D. Anspon about his first inspiration, the path to Chromosaturation, what is takes to run a transcontinental art empire, why technology is his friend, how Houston and a pair of power women figured in his American breakthrough at the age of 80, and what’s next.

On your new chapter in Panama — and the latest from Atelier Cruz-Diez.

Given the political situation in Caracas, it was becoming more and more difficult to produce my work — due both to a materials shortage and the complicated import/export process. My son Jorge set up the workshop in Panama eight years ago, so that is what originally attracted me to that country. Using the most recent technologies, more than 50 assistants help to produce my work and that of other artists.

A day in your life.

Artists do not have typical work shifts. Instead, we exist in a permanent state of the creative process.

As such, I spend much of my day at the workshop thinking, writing, and designing. When I come home, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, listening to music, reading, or catching up on current events and interesting items from the Internet. However, my mind is still very much engaged in the creative process, and many of my experiences at home influence my work.

River Oaks District

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On family, foundation, and atelier — Paris to Panama.

My wife Mirtha, who passed away in 2004, and I have three children: Carlos, Jorge, and Adriana (who was born in Paris). Our home and the workshop have always been one and the same. In this space, the members of my family have long helped me produce my art, and it was in this environment that our children developed their creativity, individual personalities, and business skills. In fact, the Cruz-Diez Art Foundation was created as an initiative of my children.

On being an innovator in light, space, and time: early influences.

As an art student [growing up in Venezuela], I wondered why everyone seemingly painted in the same manner. With time, this concern led me to develop a discipline of investigating why things are the way they are. Furthermore, because I thought art was inherently social, I focused on painting the social problems of my country. While the paintings sold well, I began to question the effectiveness of my work, given that the social problems I was addressing remained unchanged.

In that moment, I decided instead of telling people they were poor, it would be more generous to share the pleasure I had creating my art. So, in 1954, I made several urban murals where passersby could manipulate and remake the artwork.

Also, I wondered why color, if it is everywhere in space, had to be a substance one applies with a brush on a canvas? I remember being a kid in my father’s soda factory. Light from the window used to go through the bottles and color the room. So, color could appear in many different ways, without form, without support, in space…

On your love affair with technology.

I have always been attentive to technological progress, because technology has been an indispensable ally to artistic creation. Computers allowed me to make artworks that would have been impossible to complete in the past. I never cease experimenting with new techniques, because they are a source of invention for new works like the ones on view at my exhibition at the Sicardi Gallery — the Physichromies and Inductions du Jaune.

On Houston’s role in your career in the U.S.

The exhibition “Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2004 was highly important in helping spread my ideas in the U.S. It was during its preparation that I met [MFAH Latin American curator] Mari Carmen Ramírez and [gallerist] María Inés Sicardi. Then in 2011, I presented my retrospective exhibition “Color in Space and Time” curated by Mari Carmen, which had a great turnout and went on to tour several museums in Latin America.

Gazing ahead.

Fortunately, I have many upcoming exhibitions and projects. I am making several architectural integrations in France, Spain, and Latin America. For example, in Madrid there is a residential building, near Plaza de Cibeles, where we are working on its access and walking areas, the elevator, and the interior of each apartment. It is a full integration. I have just opened shows in Hong Kong, at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, and soon in Houston at the Sicardi Gallery. I was also invited to be a part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” in Los Angeles [at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art]. It is an ambitious series of exhibitions that starts this September.

Beware of…

As we are on the cusp of a new civilization, there are many things that come across as art but are simply merchandise. 

What you’re dreaming about that will startle, inspire, and embrace the public.

I am very satisfied [already], because new generations can see and enjoy my artistic proposals. I think I must have lived for decades in a blind society because people did not see what was so obvious: the sight of color appearing and disappearing in front of you.

The secret to longevity in the art world — and in life.

To do exactly what everyone else says I shouldn’t do. And I enjoy family, friendships, good food, reading, music, and analyzing, and my work.

“Carlos Cruz-Diez:,” opens Thursday, May 25 and will run through August 24, at Sicardi Gallery.

Connecting the inspired with the extraordinary

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