Francisco Sobrino was born in Guadalajara, Spain, in 1932. From 1946 to 1949 he studied at the Escuela de Arte y Oficios in Madrid, before moving to Argentina, where he attended the National Fine Arts School in Buenos Aires until 1957. In 1959 he moved to Paris and began to explore visual art, pursuing studies concerning the structure and dynamics of form, as well as color and perception. His work from this period was predominately black and white, depicting methodical shape progressions with optical effects. In 1960, along with Julio Le Parc, François Morellet and others, he formed the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV), active in Paris until 1968. The group’s ethos centred on emphasising the social function of art, which they believed should be a collective product rather than an individual one.

From 1961, Sobrino focused his research on three-dimensional constructions, combining modular elements of transparent monochrome and polychrome Plexiglas with regular structures that, when overlapped, seemed to change if viewed from different angles. In 1964 he exhibited at Documenta, Kassel, and the following year he took part in The Responsive Eye exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. During this period, he built a large stainless-steel structure in Sarcelles, France, forming the first of his numerous urban interventions. He also explored the effects of light, focusing on reflections, absorption qualities, transparency, and optical illusions created by shadows.

In the second half of the 1960s he made kinetic objects that could be manipulated by the viewer. Despite the disbanding of the GRAV group in 1968, he continued his research into three-dimensional constructions. From 1971 he was commissioned by the cities of Grenoble, Madrid, and Paris to produce sculptures for installation in public places. In 1976 Sobrino studied how to incorporate solar power into his work, creating Scultura autoenergetica in 1981. Sobrino died in France on May 11, 2014.