A virtual sculpture comes to life

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Or: In the personal exhibition “Mind’s Eye” at the Art of the World gallery until October 15

Why: The worlds of technology and art – and of truth versus fiction – find curious and introductory ground in Rafael Barrios’ “virtual volumes”. Non-virtual in the sense we have learned, they are large physical objects, designed with geometric shapes that seem to bounce in the air with glee, defying gravity. They look like something that has jumped off a computer screen into the space of the world.

The ability to look substantial when they’re little more than facades is only half of their deception, and the joke goes both ways. The elements that viewers perceive as flat turn out to be two-dimensional. Look long enough, or walk around a room that appears to be made of convex angles, and voila, you find that its parts are actually concave.

Elementary school students in drawing learn to play with perspective like this, but achieving the illusion in space, with meticulously welded and hand-lacquered steel, is no child’s play. Barrios’ painting technique is one of them. He balances transparent paint with a mixture of hues (which dissolve in the medium) and essences (which float), to achieve striking color gradations on a silver or white base.

He sometimes uses simpler methods to make flat surfaces transparent and multidimensional, or to make viewers believe they are looking at a room with four elements when in fact there are only two.

“The more I confuse you, the better,” he said with a smile.


Barrios, who was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Venezuelan parents, graduated in Canada and New York and quickly found success. Inspired by the kinetic works of Alexander Calder, the optical art of Jesús Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez, and quirky surrealism, his early works used a wider range of materials, often referring to domestic interiors.

But he quickly invented a name for his own aesthetic, calling it virtualism. The “aha” moment that led to his signature play with concave surfaces occurred in a very unmodern place: he visited the Parisian studio of Pierre August Rodin at a time when daylight captured the qualities. concave in the mold of a face that was under the table.

Barrios’ first exhibition in Houston contains large and small works on plinths, as well as one or two mobiles and a few pieces depending on the wall that rotate. (Barrios also has public artwork in the area: Howard Hughes Corporation recently installed its “Acrobática” outside its offices at The Woodlands.) The shapes are generally based on cubes, although Barrios modifies and sometimes bends the lines, just to see how far it can go. These works have the keenest sense of the caricature movement.

“Life is cubic,” he says. “It’s the cheapest position for a building, but you just have to move it 3 degrees and it becomes an event, a happening.”

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