Who is Carlos Cruz-Diez?

Written by Asli Shebe

A question that many have probably asked and others may be surprised to hear people ask.

So who is Carlos Cruz-Diez?

He is a friend, a father, a grandpa, a color theorist, a painter, a printmaker, an inventor, a designer, an innovator, a Venezuelan, the Maestro and the SCAD deFINE Art 2017 honoree.

In collaboration with Articruz, the Cruz-Diez Art Foundation, Storm Janse van Rensburg, SCAD head curator of exhibitions and SCAD alumna Raquel Serebrenik Sultan (B.F.A., art history, 2015), Cruz-Diez brings “Chroma” to the SCAD Museum of Art for deFINE Art 2017.

Talking to Diez’ grandson, Gabriel Cruz-Mendoza, SCAD alumna Serebrenik Sultan and curator Rensburg brought to light the multiple faces of Cruz-Diez, the thought behind his practice, his beliefs and his years of research, curiosity and exploration.

“He always says art must not be copied from another art you must always invent a speech,” said Serebrenik Sultan.

Now 93-years-old, Cruz-Diez has been inventing his own speech and refining his researching for 80 years; always adapting to the times and imploring new technology, new materials and new methods.

“He started as a cartoonist. He’s done film, photography, caricature, architecture, printmaking fashion . . . ” said Serebrenik Sultan, speaking on the many disciplines Cruz-Diez has had his hand in.

A man of invention and creation, curiosity and adventure, Cruz-Diez does not let a lack of resources or machinery stop his creativity. He once invented his own printmaking machines, because they didn’t exist where he was.

Carlos Cruz-Diez, “Chromosaturation,” detail, as installed in Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Photo by Maja Baska.

Unlike most revolutionaries in the art world, Cruz-Diez does not want to be taught as an icon or turn into an academic, but instead wants to teach artists to create their own, to invent news materials and technology and be forever curious and inquisitive.

“In this exhibition, [Chroma]–and his work in general–is not about teaching his color theory. . . it’s more so the idea of ‘don’t teach me in art history but teach them how to create their own speech,'” Cruz-Mendoza remarked.

After studying the work of multiple color theorists, learning all there is about color and our artistic and biological reactions to it, Cruz-Diez invented his own theories, speech and ways of approaching color.

“Since he was a child he decided to be an artist, and for him being an artist means to express of course but it also means to invent,” said Serebrenik Sultan.

“And in order to invent, you must be curious,” she added. “One thing he mentions is that you always have to be curious and ask why and how and why again and again.”

Cruz-Diez is best known in the field of Kinetic and Op art and has been viewed as one of the key 20th-century thinkers in the realm of color.

“Another aspect that is important with Carlos Cruz-Diez’ work is language,” said head curator, Rensburg. Cruz-Mendoza nodded in agreement.

“He doesn’t want you to add something that could distort the viewer,” said Cruz-Mendoza. “If I say ‘sunshine’ you already have an image about your sunshine, so you will read that work with your experience. If I say ‘additive color.’ You will say okay, I don’t have any reference, any image to distort the work,” he added.

“Chroma” according to Cruz-Mendoza, Rensburg and Serebrenik Sultan, is a transformative experience, an exploration of our perception of color. It is, “as wide as possible and as precise as possible, insight into his [Cruz-Diez’] practice,” Rensburg said.

Photographed by Asli Shebe

The exhibition includes a shipping container, a piece of work that began in 1955.

“It [the idea behind the container] was a conversation in Panama City about something that travels and is mobile,” Rensburg said. “That has a life that can carry on. It became something quite playful in a way. It’s public. It’s outside of the museum.”

Part of Cruz-Diez’ practice is taking something and changing the way we view it.

“Containers are not supposed to be walls for art,” said Serebrenik Sultan on Cruz-Diez unorthodox use of the container. Serebrenik Sultan also spoke on Cruz-Diez’ rejection of logic, saying that other’s would approach the painting of a container by painting the outside with their own designer, whereas “The Maestro” does things differently.

Cruz-Mendoza spoke on his grandfather’s invitation to students to disagree with his execution, to challenge it, and to say, “I wouldn’t do it that way.”

All three agreed the experience of viewing his work and what you will see when you look at Cruz-Diez will be different every time you stumble upon it.

“Yesterday I walked to the piece for the first time and was like, ‘That’s not the piece that was there at all,'” said Serebrenik Sultan after seeing a piece for weeks and then seeing it again “for the first time.”

“You will never experience the work in the same way,” Rensburg said. “You come back at a different time of day and the light is different.”

Photo Courtesy of SCAD

“But in history, you learn a work of art will forever be the same,” said Cruz-Mendoza. “You don’t think about seeing one work at the Louvre in another way. Maybe you know more about the artist or that historical situation . . . but the work doesn’t change,” said Cruz-Mendoza, touching on the difference between what is actually being taught in schools and Cruz-Diez’ way of teaching.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how students’ work will be influenced by his work,” Serebrenik Sultan said. “You never go into a space and think oh there’s color, there’s air there’s light.”

“Maybe we will have a wonderful solution for the exhibition after the exhibition,” remarked Cruz-Mendoza, encouraging students to disagree, to consider other methods and ask themselves how they would have gone about it.

“Come with an open mind. Come as clean of thoughts as possible and leave with the sense of creativity, curiosity, and invention,” is Serebrenik Sultan’s advice to students visiting the exhibit.

“Chroma” will be up at the SCAD MoA from Feb. 21 to Aug. 20, 2017.