The career of Carlos Cruz-Diez was defined by a single-minded focus on the liberation of color from form and material. In his art, color was an entity constantly in flux as it intermingled with light. Color facilitated events that were driven by time and place above shape and line, interfacing as such with the human sensorium and psyche. The refinement and distillation of these events was a lifelong, research-based process for the artist that employed numerous aesthetic and technological developments in service of his ultimate goal.
Cruz-Diez was born in 1929 in Caracas, Venezuela. While he had always held an interest in art, the relative isolation of Venezuela at the time hindered his ability to fully engage with the western canon beyond the scope of Venezuela’s academic painters. His access to artwork outside of his home country came through art books from Argentina and Chile that—ironically—only featured black and white reproductions of foreign work. He would only have the opportunity to see art in color upon enrollment in La Escuela de Artes Plásticas, Caracas, where he studied with fellow Venezuelan masters Jesús Rafael Soto (1923–2005) and Alejandro Otero (1921–1990). The school’s faculty were primarily landscape painters who held the Impressionists, with their commitment to capturing how light shapes an environment, as being of primary importance. By 1943, however, Cruz-Diez was overcome with frustration at his work, leading to his decision to drop out of the school and focus primarily on cartooning and graphic design.
Physicromie is what Cruz-Diez called the collection of works that he created from 1959 to his death in 2019, where he proposed a visual discourse about the spatial production of color. That is, color as an experience that takes place through the effects of reflection and irradiation produced by thin strips of color adhered to a surface by the edges. The interaction between the colored strips, the background, the ambient light, and the movement of the observer in front of the piece produces different perceptual experiences that create chromatic transformations. Thus, the term physiocromie is a new word used by the artist to emphasize the physical production of color.
For a time, he taught kinetic technique at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, and later work as the director of art for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Caracas. In 1997, his home city honored the artist when they opened the Carlos Cruz-Diez Print and Design Museum. In 2002, he was awarded by France the medal for Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
To date Cruz-Diez has featured in 1180 collective exhibitions, 286 solo exhibitions, has constructed 142 architectural works, received 70 awards, created 65 ephemeral events and has works on display in the permanent collection of 62 museums. All of which happens on a global scale - some 18 countries, and counting. Cruz-Diez’s work can be found in international museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas; the Museum of Latin American Art, California; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Modern, London; and the Galeria de Arte Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela, among others.