Although Camargo was an accomplished sculptor from the age of eighteen, it wasn’t until he was thirty-three that he began to create his now iconic white reliefs dominated by infinitesimal sliced conical protrusions. His discovery of this iconic cut cylinder shape was purely an accident; one day while cutting an apple, Camargo sliced off nearly half the fruit and then made another incision at a different angle to take a piece to eat. The two resulting planes constructed a simple interplay of light and shadow, which immediately caught the artist’s attention and provided the ultimate synthesis of his aesthetic aspirations. It was this seemingly banal discovery that gave birth to one of the greatest bodies of contemporary art of our time. Taking the simple form of the cut cylinder as his basic vocabulary, Camargo varied the size, concentration, direction and angle of each element to create unique artistic statements. In Untitled (Relief No. 19/46) the wooden components are scattered in irregular clusters, rising up like mountain ranges or the undulating surface of the moon. Their irregular placement enacts a sensuous interplay of jostling forms, which are enlivened by the dramatic shadows cast by light as it bounces off the cut surfaces.
Camargo’s fascination with volume and its dematerialization is the driving force behind his artistic enquiry. As light spreads across the surface of Untitled (Relief No. 19/46), volume appears to disintegrate and dissolve, thus complicating the viewer’s perception of scale and dimension. Further complicating the optical puzzle of volumetric space, Camargo bathes his reliefs in a blanket of white paint, forcing the viewer to engage with the nuanced transformative faculties of light and form as perceived through a monochrome field. As Brett has observed, “when it is painted, white light enters the work, dematerialising the volumes into a space which to the spectator’s eyes is uncertain in depth, vibrating, continually changing with the spectator’s movement and the light’s movement. The work interweaves the information of our tactile and visual senses in a revolutionary way” (Guy Brett, Camargo, London 1966, n.p.)
Steeped in intellectual import, these extraordinary reliefs acknowledge the precedent of Camargo’s mentor Fontana as well as the purist language of ZERO artists such as Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Heinz Mack and Günther Uecker. The sumptuous rippling of organic forms recalls the sensuous geometry of Neo-concretism and artists such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica whilst the interplay of light and movement is more than just a nod to the opticality of Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesús Rafael Soto, and the conceptual practices of American masters such as Robert Ryman and Sol Lewitt. Dramatically re-engaging old traditions via a bold new lexicon, Untitled (Relief No. 19/46) is a stunning example from Camargo’s most celebrated and fruitful period.
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