Every major art movement has one or more iconic artists whose style is foremost in our minds when we define the genre. In the case of American Pop Art, names like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Johns immediately come to mind. When contemplating Optical Art, or Op Art, no one artist is more closely tied to breathing life into the movement than Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely. As early as the 1930’s, it was Vasarely’s explorations of contrast and lines that lead the eye to draw its own conclusions that set the stage for many decades of prolific productions.
The art of tomorrow will be a collective treasure or it will not be ART at all.
-Victor Vasarely, 1953
Victor Vasarely’s paintings, sculptures and prints would not only introduce the world to the Optical Art movement, his body of work would forever inspire new artists to build upon his accomplishments. In the world of art that manipulates the mind’s eye, Vasarely simply set the bar and raised it, time and again, throughout his life. The artist forever changed the possibilities of perceptual dimensions, primarily those that could be rendered within the physical constrains of two dimensional art.
As Warhol had his soup cans, Vasarely had his zebras, the iconic works that would become emblematic of artist’s contributions and the Optical Art movement. Vasarely’s Zebras – which he would complete in variations over the years – are mesmerizing allusions of movement and dimension. Yet, the logical part of our brains can’t help but to quickly reduce them down to their simple lines and shapes. Viewing Zebras is like watching a magician’s trick go from being a mystery to a decoded, “aha, so that’s how it’s done,” only to revert back to a state of unawareness and equal amazement once again moments later.
Victor Vasarely honed his optical illusion-inducing techniques in black and white, allowing the stark contrast to define most basics themes of depth, with the artist investigating how forms could efficiently enter and leave one another. A computer programmer might consider this period of work as Vasarely’s binary phase – mimicking the most basic and reduced understanding of electronic technology – merely the presence or absence of electricity. With Vasarely’s black and white works, there’s even intense intrigue in this most basic use of color, summarized in endless debate over whether white is on and black is off, or vice versa.
Great artists manifest their expressions and thoughts in a manner that’s consumable and able to be experienced by others. What may go unnoticed is the artist’s uncanny ability to perceive and be inspired by their surroundings − the tide beneath the waves. In the case of Victor Vasarely, a 1947 vacation at the Breton coast Bell-Isle-sur-Mer beaches provided such inspiration, as the artist consumed with appreciation what was literally beneath the receding waves, the pebbles and shells whose shapes were “arranged” in appealing formations. For Victor Vasarely, such a subtle experience would nonetheless provide a subject to be deconstructed and rearranged for years to come.
Of the innumerous ways that Victor Vasarely created rich new lands for Optical Art and artists to flourish, perhaps most important was the creation of the “alphabet plastique” – a systemized code for scientifically composing artistic permutations. In developing this codified approach for arranging a myriad of shape alterations matched to varieties of colors (and hues), Vasarely created more than a technique for blending science and art – he introduced the world to a new fine art language.
Like all things Vasarely, the alphabet plastique is gift of massive significant in layers. Developed to organize his own testing, tracking and evaluation of arrangements, the system also signified the artist’s movement toward scaled production. With such a system in place, the artist could produce and organize the creation of new works, and even enlist help to do so. Throughout history, we see this sentiment reintroduce itself among artists who reach a stage of life where they understand that limited time on the planet equals a finite time to produce. This same mindset also leads Vasarely to be an early adopter of technologies that allow for paintings to also be manifested as print reproductions.
Orbs, Cubes and Triangles
At our Contemporary Art gallery in Boca Raton, Victor Vasarely’s paintings and numbered editions have been a staple of our Optical Art diet from day one. Intrigued by works from every phase of the artist’s life, Vasarely’s Vega series of prints are most certainly among those that particularly stop visitors in their tracks…often for a profound pause. So interesting are these compositions that lend the viewer to observe an object, perhaps an orb, protruding from a flat and stable two-dimensional pattern. Almost impossibly so, as the inquisitive nature of the mind begs the question, “How is this possible?”
How perfect it seems that “Responsive Eye” is the title of the 1965 New York Museum of Modern Art exhibit that helped launch Vasarely’s popularity in America. Never has an artist so beautifully tricked and delighted the imagination of the viewer – with images that swell, move and lead us into new dimensions.
If you’re a Vasarely collector, please drop in to our gallery in Boca Center or drop us a line.