raúl díaz reyes _ vocabulary for settling vertigos

june 15 - august 17 2019

raúl díaz reyes _ vocabulary for settling vertigos

The Color of the Vowels

“I invented colours for the vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would be its translator. I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.” Arthur Rimbaud[1]

Raúl Díaz Reyes fills the four walls of the exhibition room with an alphabet of colors and shapes. In his second solo show in São Paulo, the Spanish artist scatters small bidimensional acrylic elements throughout the space. The largely geometric blue, black and red pieces are not letters strictly speaking. They are born from the encounter of pure shapes – triangles, circles and squares – in a process of addition, cutout and subtraction that gives rise to new configurations. Others of them are more spontaneous and gestural. All together, they constitute a vocabulary of signs which, sometimes, refer to known and quickly identifiable patterns, akin to icons and logos, to the urban world and advertising.

Accompanied by their supposed “molds,” at first sight it seems that the pieces have just now become free, though still shyly and taking their time. The molds – acrylic sheets with shapes cut out of them, framed and held up by rectangular structures of painted iron – resemble those plastic stencil rulers with simple, generic shapes to aid in the sketching of trees, airplanes or even ocean waves. They also recall architect’s rulers, used to construct less playful technical drawings, which serve for a functional purpose and a logic of prefabrication. However, contrary to one’s first impression, the loose figures that have been cut out of them not fit in the empty places of the molds, indicating that in reality the larger pieces did not serve as matrices for their production. This disconnection is the first sign, or the first clue, of the breaking of an order and of the entropy suggested by the artist.

Cut with a laser, the acrylic elements allude to industrial production. Their edges are sharp, their material is cold, and their surface, delicate. They seem distant from manual work. Even so, they clearly dialogue with the experimentation of the historic avant-gardes, with geometric abstraction, with constructivism, with concretism and neoconcretism. Like the typographic poem of Mallarmé, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1897),[2] which explored the possibilities of the technology of printing and of the empty space on the page, the pieces by Raúl use the wall like a blank sheet of paper. The cutout figures are stuck to the architecture and define the rhythm of the reading and the pauses of the artwork. Freely grouped, the pieces establish among themselves interplays of weights that defy any fixed rule, any single pattern or grid. The set possesses movement and draws within the space a musical score made with an alternative notation, a visual form or a landscape. It does not appear easy to decipher their meaning or the laws of their construction. The reading of the installation transits between the visual, the choreographic, the architectural and, despite the silence, the sonorous.

In a 1965 text, Between Poetry and Painting,”[3] the Benedictine monk and visual poet Dom Sylvester Houédard uses the terms “logos” and “icon” to refer to a broader world than “word” and “painting.” By constructing a historical chronology of the relations between the two concepts, spanning from the primitive artifacts up to the 1960s, the monk proposes terms such as “quasi-painting,” “quasi-word” or even “quasi-letter.” With the use of this terminology to designate open proposals in permanent redefinition, Dom Sylvester shakes the nature and existence of “words” and the “painting” as isolated materials, proposing zones of free circulation and nonseparation between text and image, between poetry and painting, between “logos” and “icons.”[4]

Raúl’s pieces lie in this “between” realm. They are quasi-paintings, quasi-words or quasi-letters that synthesize and materialize signs present in contemporary visual culture, in the signage of cities and in the history of art. In this work, references or cross-influences are intercrossed without explicit and specific citations from different times and provenances. From the production of North American filmmaker and graphic designer Saul Bass, famous for the opening sequences of films such as Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, to the geometric choreography of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet, from the beginning of the 20th century.

Some of the elements of the installation also recall the totemic iconography of Rubem Valentim, who from the 1950s onwards resorted to the language of geometric abstraction to construct complex compositions that redesign and reconfigure Afro-Atlantic symbols, emblems and references. Lastly, it is fundamental to refer to Lygia Pape, to her Ballet Neoconcreto, conceived in 1958 in partnership with poet Reynaldo Jardim, and, mainly, to the trilogy of books that the artist produced at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, Livro da CriaçãoLivro da Arquitetura and Livro do Tempo.

Lygia transcended the formal distancing of concretism, calling attention to the social dimension of art and suggesting the interaction between art and the public. Raúl also questions preestablished orders and proposes processes of rearticulation, reconfiguration and metamorphosis that take place in the presence of the spectator. Just like Rimbaud, he invents a vocabulary all his own to settle vertigos.

Isabella Lenzi


[1] Rimbaud, Arthur. “Une saison en enfer. Délires II. Alchimie du verbe,” 1873.

[2] In English: “A throw the dice will never abolish chance.”

[3] Houédard, Dom Sylvester. Between Poetry and Painting. London, ICA – Institute of Contemporary Art, 1965.

[4] I am grateful to Tomás Cunha Ferreira for the bibliographical reference and for his ideas about the text.