Carlos Cruz-Diez began the Physichromie series in 1959 in Paris. The term "Physichromie" was invented by the artist to communicate his combined intention for the works. On the one hand, the works explore the physical effects of color on the viewer. On the other hand, they encourage the viewer to experience color or "chroma" as unfolding and continually changing, much as color is experienced in nature. Initially, the Physichromies were the product of Cruz-Diez’s discovery of Dr. Edwin Land’s (1901–1991) research on polarized lenses. In his studies, Land was able to overlay a nearly full chromatic spectrum against black-and-white photos through the juxtaposition of red and green filters as well as light exposure. From Land’s findings, Cruz-Diez realized that he, too, could create dynamic color through ostensibly static means and a limited palette (Frank Popper, “Cruz-Diez,” in Color in Space and Time: Cruz-Diez, New Haven 2001, 404). To capture a lens-like effect, essentially “trapping light,” Cruz-Diez used thin, raised, vertical strips of plastic or cardboard that he called “Chromatic Event Modules.” These elements, either made of painted cardboard or translucent, colored plastic, run across the surface of the picture plane at intervals. As light is trapped in the modules, they engender myriad optical effects when viewed against the colors of the supporting surface.
There are, therefore, no singular vantage points for viewing a Physichromie, the colors, the geometric compositions, all change depending on the spectator’s angle of vision. New shapes and different hues emerge as viewers make their way across the face of the artwork, attesting to the components of the portmanteau that titles the series: "physical chromatism” (Martha Sesín, “Carlos Cruz-Diez: Amarillo aditivo [Additive Yellow], 1959; Physichromie No 21, 1960” in Exh. Cat., Austin, Blarnton Museum of Art, The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, 2007, p. 173). These works were early successes and led to his inclusion in important exhibitions of the 1960s such as The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Lumière et mouvement at the Musée d’arte Moderne, Paris. Executed in 1968, one year after Cruz-Diez was awarded the international painting prize at the 9th Bienal de São Paulo and shortly before he represented Venezuela at the Venice Biennale in 1970, Physichromie No. 392 is an outstanding early example from this seminal series, one considered a pivotal contribution to the physical properties of color.
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