Propelled by this breakthrough, upon his arrival in Paris in 1950 Soto dedicated himself to understanding the history of art in the first half of the twentieth century in order to address unresolved questions in visual expression. Obsessed by Mondrian, he identified an opportunity to further his advancements: in order for a work of art to hold greater expressive potential within Mondrian’s elemental, Platonic geometric vocabulary, it was necessary to break beyond two dimensions into relief. In particular, the poetic resonances of square (the fundamental component of AMB. N.Y. K) were fundamental throughout his lengthy career. “The square represented—and still represents for me—the most genuinely human form, in the sense that it is a pure creation of man. The square, and geometrical figures in general, are purely the invention of the human spirit, distinctly intellectual creations” (ibid., p. 45).
Through the 1950s-1970s, Soto severely restricted his color palette and materials in order to explore the optical power of vibrating patterns to create the effect of a complete dematerialization of space. However, he was compelled in later years to return to the question of color through the Ambivalencias, a series of large works that interrogate perceptions of space and color through stable geometric elements. Soto “was interested in the possibilities of color combinations and vibrations, independent of or opposed to the traditional concepts of chromatic harmony. My purpose was not and has never been to find a beautiful harmony of colors, but to put them to work, to combine and blend them randomly, as if color were part of a magma in which man finds or creates the harmonies that interest him” (ibid., p. 92).
AMB. N.Y. K is a masterful example from this series. Soto’s floating squares vibrate furiously on one side of the composition and hover softly, tensely on the other. He achieves in resplendent color an environment in which light, color, and space itself become dematerialized and unstable. Remarking on the project of the Ambivalencias, Soto explained: “The Ambivalencias are the solution I found to a number of issues that were more or less implicit in the work of the great Western artists from the end of the nineteenth century forward, but that had not been developed. As a result of the Fauves, of individuals like Matisse, Léger, Delaunay, the Russian constructivists, and in general those who tried to use color independently of form and extra-pictorial content, the power and ambiguity of color became manifest, and we witness its capacity to generate the illusion of a space that is optically variable” (ibid., p. 95).
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