Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), B17 Glass Bólide 05 ‘Homage to Mondrian’, 1965, glass, textile, water, pigment and cork, 30 x 47.5 x 60 cm, © Projeto Hélio Oiticica.
The American art critic Clement Greenberg famously wrote that a blank canvas is already a picture, but perhaps not a successful one. This sets a very low bar for picture-making. We can all make pictures if we know how to stretch canvas. Everyone is an artist.
But what about the other raw ingredient of painting: paint or pigment. Is a container of pigment a painting? The work of Brazilian artist, Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), turns our attention to this question and the evocative power of colour and pigment.
Homage to Mondrian is from a series of works that Oiticica called bólides, usually translated as fireballs. Mostly the bólides use fiery colours like yellow, red and orange. The pigment here is dissolved into water and used as a dye to colour the drapery that corks the bottle. The colours used are Mondrian’s primaries but his strict geometry is nowhere to be seen. Canvas and pigment are assembled into a sensuous sculptural form rather than being more conventionally displayed in two-dimensions. We have all the ingredients of painting—textile and pigment—but the composition is in real space. So, do you think this can be considered a painting? SB