Christo created a series of relief-like surface textures starting in 1958 with his works entitled Surfaces d’Empaquetage. These were pieces of fabric or paper, mostly crumpled and crushed, that Christo folded and covered with several thin layers of dark brown lacquer.
Discontinuities and disruptions of the surface exposing the material beneath still testify to the vehemence of the production process. In addition, sand particles in the lacquer and the crumpled surface give a weathered impression of the kind that was to become characteristic of Christo’s earliest packagings.
With their impasto surfaces, these works already testify clearly to Christo’s basic avant-garde attitude. What he found fascinating in the work of his contemporaries was the often aggressive integration of substances alien to art. All the works of art that aroused his interest had one thing in common: a rich, tactile surface.
After visiting an exhibition with works by Jean Dubuffet in 1959, Christo undertook another series of relief-like surface structures, his Cratères series. The many thick layers of dark brown paint almost give the works the character of objects. They thus exemplify Christo's increasing interest in the three-dimensional object.
In some of the works, Christo attached empty, used paint cans to the base in various places before covering the whole work with a mixture of sand, enamel and glue, creating a textural mesh of furrows, trenches and craters that penetrate the pictorial space. Christo transforms a horizontal crater landscape into a vertical wall relief, comparable to Daniel Spoerri's trap-pictures in which the remains of a meal are attached to a table top and then upended to hang vertically.
Other works in the Cratères series, with their overlapping surface structure and three-dimensionality, are reminiscent of Lucio Fontana. Fontana's controlled destruction of the canvas made a strong impression on Christo. Punctures and slashes in the jagged surface of Christo's works allow a glimpse of the wall behind the work. The relief does not protrude so much as it draws the observer's gaze inside the picture, from where the paint pours forth like a river of lava.
Excerpt from the book Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Early Works 1958-64 by Matthias Koddenberg (Bönen: Kettler, 2009). Edited by the author in 2011.