CARLOS ROJAS

b. 1933, Facatativá, Colombia

d. 1997, Bogotá

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The color that appears in the paintings is being utilized as a means more than as a color itself . . . those colors that were meant to be [no] more than indicators of distance, inevitably started to vibrate and thus to affirm my initial concern with the fields that are charged with an energy of their own . . . they have turned into an effective vocabulary with which to refer to the unsensed amounts of limited matter.

 

—Carlos Rojas [1]

 

The painter and sculptor Carlos Rojas situates his artistic output in both temporally and culturally relative terms. His rectilinear sculptures and sumptuous paintings of ethereal spaces cut through with rigid lines speak to a conception of space that the artist understood to be deeply contemporary. In a 1984 interview with María Cristina Laverde Toscano,  Rojas stated: “For me, the twentieth century, the century that I lived through, constitutes a defining moment in the history of humanity. . . It is the moment in which relativity, simultaneity, exact or closest reasons to a reality of space and time are established as a unit and not as separate elements. So . . . all my work seeks to manage those same spaces; both painting and sculpture speak of an empty space that is in turn occupied.”[2]

 

But if Rojas understood his artistic practice in parallel with contemporary conceptions of space, he was equally aware of the relationship between his forms and the history and culture of his place of birth. Geometric abstraction, for Rojas, was an artistic language intimately tied to pre-Columbian forms as well as the artistic production of local craftsman. If his expansive planes of color bring to mind the enchanting, liquid spaces of the contemporary Color Field painters in North America, they likewise speak to, as the art historian Germán Rubiano Caballero writes, “the woolen fabrics of popular handcraft artisans.”[3] In the catalogue of his two-person exhibition with Santiago Cárdenas Arroyo at New York’s Center for Inter-American Relations in 1973, Bernice Rose noted the artist’s specific references to “the Shipibo of the Peruvian Amazon who decorate pottery and cloth with right-angled lines which trace complex quickly moving patterns on dark or neutral fields.”[4] 

 

Rojas’s sculptures, which he began producing in the mid-1960s, offer another route for exploring the spatial problems that so preoccupied him. Composed solely of rectilinear lines, which predominate in Rojas’s artistic output after 1966,[5] his early sculptures snaked through space at right angles, recalling the work of the American Minimalist Tony Smith. Like the sculptures of his compatriot Edgar Negret, however, Rojas left visible the nuts and bolts that perforate the steel I-beams used to create his structures. “While these earlier pieces asserted their own mass, inhabiting space,” Rose writes in the Center for Inter-American Relations catalogue, “his most recent constructions of square-section iron rods painted black shift the emphasis to space itself.”[6] Rather than moving through space, Rojas’s sculptures soon began the process of framing it, forming architectonic windows and doors that open onto the surrounding environment. 

 

Both sumptuous and cerebral, examples of Carlos Rojas’s absorbing practice have been exhibited in major international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (1958, 1982); Bienal de Mexico (1958); 10 Años de Arte Colombiano, Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia (1971); São Paulo Biennial (1975, 1991); Arte Sensible, Museu de Arte Moderna, Río de Janeiro (1978); Contemporary Sculpture: Selections from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1979); 100 Años de Arte Colombiano, Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogotá (Opened 1985, traveled to: Imperial Palace, Río de Janeiro; Paulista Cultural Center, São Paulo; Italo-Latinoamerican Cultural Center, Rome; Museum of Modern Art Tokyo); Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century, Plaza de Armas, Seville (Opened 1992, traveled to: Centre Pompidou, Paris; Josef-Haubrich Kunsthalle, Cologne; Museum of Modern Art, New York); ModernStarts: People, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1999); ModernStarts: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1999); Exquisite Corpses: Drawing and Disfiguration, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012).

 

Rojas’s work is featured in the collections of the Banco de la República, Bogotá; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin; Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogotá; Museo Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá; Museo la Tertulia, Calí, Colombia; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.   

 

[1] Quoted in Bernice Rose, introduction to Santiago Cárdenas and Carlos Rojas, exh. cat. (New York: Center for Inter-American Relations, 1973), np.

[2] Quoted in María Cristina Laverde Toscano, “Entrevista con Carlos Rojas: el espacio en movimiento,” in Hojas Universitarias 3, no. 29 (Bogotá: Universidad Central, 1987),  219–20

[3] Germán Rubiano Caballero, “Carlos Rojas: Recent Works,” Arte en Colombia, December 1977. Accessed online November 2, 2020.

[4] Rose, np.

[5] Eduardo Serrano, “La Obra de Carlos Rojas,” in Carlos Rojas, exh. cat. (Bogotá: Museo de Arte Moderno, 1974), np.

[6] Rose, np.