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Carlos Cruz-Diez (1923 - 2019)

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Born in Caracas in 1923, Carlos Cruz-Diez discovered a love of drawing as a child, enrolling at age 17 at the city\u2019s School of Fine Art, where his peers included Jesús Rafael Soto and Alejandro Otero, who alongside Cruz-Diez would become the foremost Venezuelan artists of the 20th century.

Graduating in 1945, Cruz-Diez worked as an illustrator for local newspapers and then as creative director for an international advertising agency, while finding his own artistic voice as a painter. His early work was figurative, often denouncing the social issues of the day. \u2018I don\u2019t believe that art is disassociated from people and society,\u2019 he would later say. \u2018But telling somebody they are poor doesn\u2019t mean you are solving their problems \u2013 that made me go on a long introspective journey of what art should be, and what an artist should paint.\u2019

His study of Bauhaus and the European avant garde, as well as the interplay between colour, light and perspective, led him on a path towards abstraction. In 1954 he began to work on abstract reliefs in plywood, acrylic paint and modulated cardboard strips, and five years later his created his first Physichromie (physical colour), a structure designed to unlock the additive, reflective and subtractive qualities of colour. The series would continue and evolve over the next six decades.

Stepping in front of a Physichromie is a theatrical, even transformative experience. Despite its straightforward composition \u2013 a striped background punctuated with parallel perpendicular bars, the judicious placement and choice of palette is such that the work never appears static. Instead, as light conditions shift and one shuffles around the work, new ranges of colour seem to unravel, compelling one to reconsider what it means to see. \u2018I conceive a work to the extent that the viewer moves in front of it,\u2019 he told Wallpaper* last year. \u2018These works are like light traps, where colours evolve and transform in a perpetual presence, unlike traditional painting where colour was applied once and remains unchanged, becoming a past event, not of the present.\u2019

In 1960 Cruz-Diez relocated to Paris, lured by developments in international abstraction. He would be based there for the rest of his life. Pushing the experiential dimension of his work further, in 1969 he installed \u2018Labyrinthe de Chromosaturation\u2019 on Paris\u2019 Boulevard Saint Germain. Comprising 20 monochromatic colour chambers, the work would saturate the viewer\u2019s retina in one shade of colour at a time, and reinforce Cruz-Diez\u2019s idea of colour as a \u2018main event\u2019, rather than an addition to form or narrative.

A solo exhibition at the 35th Venice Biennale in 1970 cemented his reputation, and in the ensuing decade Cruz-Diez began to work on projects on an architectural scale, including floor and wall murals at Caracas\u2019 Simón Bolivár International Airport, measuring 270x9m. Over time, Cruz Diez\u2019s chromatic compositions would find their way to monumental building façades, landscape designs, public walkways, and in 2014, even a historic battleship, which Cruz-Diez camouflaged in distinctive manner for the First World War centenary commemorations in Liverpool.

Fashion, too became an occasional stomping ground for Cruz-Diez. He worked with the Venezuelan designer Oscar Carvallo on two collections, in 2008 and 2014, injecting fresh dynamism into his kinetic art by draping it over the body. He also had a special relationship with Prada, which paid homage to him in a series of Physichromie-inspired shop façades around the world.

Cruz-Diez was honoured in his home city in 1997 with the opening of the Carlos Cruz-Diez Print and Design Museum. In 2005, his family established the Cruz-Diez Art Foundation in Houston, to preserve his artistic legacy by way of facilitating exhibitions and organising pedagogical workshops.

His studio in Paris \u2013 based for decades in Belle-Epoque era old butcher\u2019s shop, before moving in 2016 to a larger workshop nearby \u2013 equally became a family enterprise, with his children and eventually grandchildren assisting in the creation of his pieces. When Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Sarah Douglas visited the studio in October 2018, she was met with Cruz-Diez\u2019s warmth, generosity, and a twinkle in his eye. Into his later years, he continued to go into studio day after day, and was always quick to embrace new technology. He would come to rely exclusively on a computer to visualise his work.

When Wallpaper* profiled Cruz-Diez in late 2015 (he was then 92), on the occasion of his permanent installation opening at Washington DC\u2019s CityCenter, he showed no signs of slowing down, and even mused, \u2018I think it was the artist Raymond Duchamp-Villon, who said that the hardest thing for any artist is the first 75 years\u2019. His signature exploration into colour was also reflected in our September 2015 issue, when he shared his menu for a week\u2019s worth of comforting soups in our Artist\u2019s Palate series. With a different colour for each day of the week, he proved himself to be a purist through and through. He went on to create a very special limited edition cover for our January 2016 issue, pictured above.

His vision of colour was matched only by his enthusiasm for creation, and for those of us who were fortunate enough to have been in his orbit, his exuberant personality. Our world will be less vibrant without him.

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