Eusebio Sempere (Onil, Alicante, 1923–1985) had his first experience of Paris on a grant, which imbued him with a knowledge of modern art and also allowed him to experience the work of Wassily Kandinsky first hand. Sempere was ‘awestruck’ by the art he saw in Paris, and in the summer of 1949 exhibited an early example of abstract gouaches that resulted from this experience. On a later return to Paris in 1950, he studied the work of Piet Mondrian as an expression of the rigour and order of abstraction. Sempere aligned himself with the tendency in abstraction stemming from the concrete movement of the interwar period. Sempere was a frequent visitor to two of the spaces that played a part in forging this tendency: the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, where he met Auguste Herbin and then Michel Seuphor; and Galerie Denise René, which represented a series of artists the painter made contact with, including, in particular, Victor Vasarely and Jesús Rafael Soto.
In Paris, Sempere set out in 1953 on a solitary, coherent, slow labour of investigation culminating in the definition of his own work, which developed alongside the Kinetic movement introduced in April 1955 at the legendary exhibition Le mouvement on the initiative of Victor Vasarely at Galerie Denise René.
Eusebio Sempere’s investigation of kinetic art comprised two different modes. Firstly, a broad spectrum of what the artist considered to be experimental work, with gouache drawings, normally on black Canson paper; and secondly, a smaller set of Relieves luminosos móviles (Luminous mobile reliefs) made of wooden board, perspex sheets, lightbulbs and small electric motors. All of these works originated, according to the artist, as an ‘impulse to restructure painting after its ill-treatment during the success and dissemination of the Informalist movement’. Several of Sempere’s reliefs were exhibited in the summer 1955 Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, shortly after the Le mouvement exhibition. A manifesto by the artist accompanied the reliefs, speaking of light as the element that poetic dialogue would be built up with over time.
Sempere’s gouache works developed a concept of composition in which perspective was excluded. Everything occurs in one plane with a profusion of geometric figures expanding across the neutral ground of the paper. These surfaces are almost always built up by a multitude of highly nuanced fine lines and small planes of colour, and the shapes appear to evolve physically in space so that, in the artist’s words, ‘everything becomes a continual backwards and forwards movement of the eye’.
Sempere’s Relieves luminosos móviles – a complete view of which is showed in this exhibition – evolve from simple geometric shapes and white light in the first pieces, to other works which filter light through thin coloured plastic sheets, with more complicated forms including the introduction of a mechanism of small engines that create sequences as light bulbs turn on and off. These works were admired by Vasarely for the rigour of their signs and their measured colour and light, which he said were ‘inscribed in time with a resrtained, moving sensibility’.
Sempere participated in the 1959 Bienal de São Paulo with a number of reliefs, and also took part in some of the exhibitions by the Grupo Parpalló, founded by Vicente Aguilera Cerni in 1960. He then returned to Spain at a time when artistic modernity was an accepted fact, with Informalism as the dominant tendency. At this point a new stage in the artist’s career began during which the artist focused his concentration on painting, continuing to work in gouache on larger pieces with roughly textured surfaces he previously prepared, evolving a grammar based on fine, perpetually varying coloured lines in a rich, refined arrangements of tones which, with the technical difficulties indicated by the artist himself, were the means towards some astonishing works whose vibration, shifting light, and spatial and atmospheric effect were decisive.
In 1964, the year of his journey to the United States, where he met Josef Albers, the artist’s work took on a new thrust which led him to define the syntax of his later work and to incorporate two new materials, cardboard and iron. For a short, intense period of time, he made a group of pieces he called ‘collages’ which involved meticulous work cutting out cardboard. The interaction of successive planes in space or depth was also effectively developed as the basis of a series of mobiles using chrome plated or painted metal rods, which the artist exhibited later the same year in New York. From 1965 onwards, Sempere intensified his production of mobiles, using screens in order to fully investigate the many optical contrasts created by the play of different planes, creating dynamic, changing, luminous sculptures. In his painting of the same period we find the essential elements in his language, starting with the primary sign of line and colour together, whether in exclusively geometrical works or others in which glimpses of a landscapeoriented figurative approach, alluding to the light of nature, may be seen. He also produced many folders of screenprints and made an important contribution to the use of this technique.
Sempere also took part in a wide variety of initiatives (which he considered to be investigative work) influenced by the interaction of painting and sculpture with music, architecture, new technologies, cybernetics and science, revealing the breadth of his artistic interests. The idea of concurrence between the arts, of concrete poetry, musicality and objetivation, can be seen, for instance, in his project for IBM – a mobile light structure synchronised with music and concrete poetry, made in 1969 by Eusebio Sempere with musician Cristóbal Halffter and poet Julio Campal. In this context, his participation in the Seminars on Analysis and Automatic Generation of Artistic Forms at the Calculus Centre, Madrid University (currently Universidad Complutense de Madrid) in 1969-1972, out of which came computer-generated works, and in the exhibitions organised by Aguilera Cerni, Antes del Arte. Experiencias ópticas perceptivas estructurales in Valencia and Madrid in 1968.
This exhibition spans three decades of Sempere’s work and includes gouaches, light reliefs, paintings on board, collages, metal mobiles and mobile sculptures, will travel to the new venue of the IVAM in Alcoi, from November 16th, 2018 to February 3rd, 2019 .