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Victor Vasarely (Vásárhelyi Győző) (1906-1997), Hungarian artist, the father of Optical Art, the style's leading theorist and its most inventive practician, a man of science who understood ahead of everybody else how technology would radically change our world, an intuition that he projected into his works. An artist and socialist whose goal was to create designs that were universal, to produce an art that could be mass produced and affordable for everyone. A man who was fascinated with an art of pure visual perception without traditional themes. A man whose works are represented at major museum all over the world. A man who received many artistic awards and honorary awards, e.g. he was awarded the rank of Officer in the French Legion of Honor and honorary citizen of New York, he received the Guggenheim Prize and the Art Critics Prize in Brussels, and he won a gold medal at the Milan Triennale.
Vasarely was born in Pécs in 1906 and died in Paris in 1997 at the age of 91. He spent his childhood and teenage years living in Pöstyén (now Pieštany, Slovakia ) until his family moved to Budapest in 1919. In 1925 after finishing secondary school he studied medicine at the University of Budapest. Throughout his early life Vasarely found himself drawn more towards the sciences than the arts. In 1927 he decided to change direction completely. He abandoned medicine to learn traditional academic painting in Budapest, first at the private Podolini-Volkmann Academy, and in 1929 he enrolled at Alexander Bortnyik's Műhely Academy, then widely recognized as the center of Bauhaus studies in Budapest. Bortnyik followed the principles of the Bauhaus School of Dessau.

The German Bauhaus
(1919-1932) was the most important school of architecture, art and design of the 20th century. Cooperation between architects, painters, sculptors, designers and craftsmen - an interplay between art and technology should create a harmonic whole, and all sorts of applied art and artistic products should be summarized into a common manifesto. Design could improve society, not just be a reflection of society. Bauhaus' style was characterized by economy of method, a strict geometry of form and design that took into account the nature of the materials employed.
The Bauhaus thoughts had an enormous impact in Vasarely’s work, leaving an indelible mark in his creation up until the end. It was during this period that he initiated himself into the tendencies of Constructivism and discovered Abstract Art. At Mühely he became acquainted with the abstract geometric art of Klee and Kandinsky and Wilhelm Ostwald’s colour system.
These years studying medicine were far from wasted though as the formal scientific training provided him with a strong sense of scientific method and objectivity - something that stood him in good stead throughout his artistic career.
In 1930 Vasarely settles in Paris, where he worked as a graphic artist for various advertising agencies, and he began his "Zebra" studies. In the following years he explored optical effects in his graphic works, and in the next two decades he developed his own (scientific) abstract geometric style - paintings, drawings and designs in black and white.
In 1931 he married Claire Spinner, who was also an artist, she gave birth to their two sons André and Jean-Pierre, the latter became an artist known as Yvaral, he died in 2002, he also worked in the fields of Op Art.
From the 1950's on, Vasarely insistently questioned himself about the role of the artist in society and eagerly searched for a way to create a social art, accessible and available to all.
In the 1950s he introduced new materials in his paintings e.g. glass and aluminium, and completed several architectural integrations e.g. the ceramic wall from 1954 "Tribute to Malevich" at the University of Caracas, Venezuela - (Integration of Art in the City). In 1955 he published his "Manifeste jaune" ("Yellow Manifesto") - he was aware of that the easel painting was outdated and suggested the necessity of homogeneity in plastic art. He imagined a new function of art, he concluded that a work of art was not a reflection of the inner world of the artist, more like objects, a result of a work - the only justification of art was to give beauty and joy to human beings and to create peace and harmony. During the 1960’s and 1970’s his optical images became part of the popular culture, having a deep impact on architecture, computer science, fashion and the way we now look at things in general. Even though he achieved great fame he insisted on making his art accessible to everyone. His motto was "Art for all".
In 1965, he participated in the "Responsive Eye" exhibition at
MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York, dedicated exclusively to "Optical Art". It instituted a new relationship between artist and spectator, where the observer cannot remain passive, he is free to interpret the image in as many visual scenarios he can conceive. Received with great acclaim, the press and the public hailed Vasarely as the inventor and creator of "Op-Art". In the late 1960s he achieved great success in the Op Art exhibition "Lumière et mouvement" at Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris.
1970 he inaugurated his own Museum - Musée Vasarely in Château de Gordes in Vaucluse in the South of France. After his death in 1997 law of wills and succession caused that his paintings were removed from the museum.
In 1982 The French-Soviet team of cosmonauts of the Salyut 7 transported into space 154 of Vasarely’s prints specially created for such event. The prints were later sold for the benefit of UNESCO.
Vasarely remains one of the pillars of contemporary art for having lead abstract geometric painting into its extraordinary culmination under the name of Op Art or Kineticism. His entire works are characterized by great coherence, from the evolution of his early graphic art to his determination to promote a social art.
In 1960 Vasarely said "The end of personal art for a sophisticated elite is near, we are heading straight towards a global civilization, governed by Sciences and Techniques. We must integrate visual sensibility into a correct world” … "The art of tomorrow will be a common collective treasure or it will not be art at all."
Vasarely Múzeum Budapest
In 1987 the Vasarely Museum in Budapest was inaugurated, the museum houses a great collection of his works and works by other Hungarian artists, who worked outside the country.
Victor Vasarely - PERIODS
"Blue Study", 1929.
Alexander Bortnyik's Mühely Academy, Budapest (1929-1930)
It was during this period that Vasarely initiated himself into the tendencies of Constructivism and discovered Abstract Art.
Photos from
The Victor Vasarely
Official Artist Website
by Michèle Vasarely
"Zebra", 1938.
Early Graphic Period (1929-1946)

Vasarely experimented with textural effects, perspective, shadow and light.

"Model", 1946.
Wrong Ways aka Fausses Routes
Vasarely was influenced by Cubism and Surrealism. He focused on still lives, landscapes and portraits.
"Siliceous Stone".
Belle-Isle Period (1947-1958)

A turning point in Vasarely's career
  - a transformation of natural elements into abstract art, a return to nature by using geometrical forms such as the oval which symbolizes the oceanic feeling.

"Chillan", 1952.
Denfert Period (1951-1958)
Primarily paintings influenced by the walls at the Denfert-Rochereau metro station located near Arcueil, where Vasarely lived for more than 30 years.
"Homage à Malewitsch",
1952 - 1958.
Cristal-Gordes Period (1948-1958)

"Homage à Malewitsch" marks the turn towards kineticism.
The Russian artist Kasimir Malewitsch/Malevich was one of the pioneers of Abstract Art, the founder of Suprematism, a style using only a few colours and few basic geometric shapes. By using strict, simple shapes and colours, Malevich could go beyond superficial appearances to attain a deeper level of meaning. In 1913 he painted the epoch-making "Black Square" a black square on a ground of white.

"Pensar 5", 1956 - 68
(Pensar Spanish verb, to think).
Mixed Compositions
"Vega", 1957,
looks like a twisted chessboard, named after the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.
Black-White Period

In this period he developed the basic elements of Op-Art.

"Alom", 1966.
Planetary Folklore (From 1960)
Brightly coloured shapes which led to the invention of his fine arts alphabet "Alphabet Plastique", a comprehensive "alphabet", a universal fine arts language to be understood by everyone, a step towards truly collective art.
"Tridim C", 1968.
Hommage à L´Hexagone

Vasarely was attracted by cellular structure in a series of works belonging to "Homage to the hexagon" theme.

"Boygo I", 1969.
Vonal Period (1964-1970)
In the 'Vonal' series, he revisited his earlier line studies (e.g. the Zebres series) and graphic works but this time making full use of colour.
"Vega Nor", 1969,  shows the warmth of Vasarely's colours and the freshness.
From his "Vega Period".
Expansive-Regressive Structures
(From 1968 onwards)
Op Art or Optical Art
was a painting style used by European and American artists during the 1960s.
The style can trace its roots back to
de Stijl, Futurism and Constructivism
Common to de Stijl, Futurism, Contructivism and Op Art are the illusion of motion, dynamics and elements such as straight lines, geometrical forms, black and white and bright colours
De Stijl was a Dutch artist movement founded in Leiden in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian. De Stijl's style was Neoplasticism influenced by Cubism, it is non-figurative plane geometrical simplified abstract art consisting of straight lines and the three primary colours (yellow, red, blue) and black and white.
Piet Mondrian, "Composition No. II, with Red and Blue", 1929, MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Futurism was an artistic movement in Italy between 1909-1918 founded be the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who declared "... a new beauty, the beauty of speed", he said "A racing motor car ... is more beautiful than Nike from Samotrache (the Victory of Samotrahrace)".
Futurists tried to express the energy and values of the machine age - they expressed motion in their paintings by repetition of forms e.g. wheeled traffic or walking people, and the most famous painting is "Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash", 1912, by Giacomo Balla.
Giacomo Balla, "Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash" (Dinamismo di un cane al guinzaglio), 1912, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.
Constructivism was an artistic and architectural Russian movement (1919-1934), non-figurative art contemporary with the Bauhaus School i Weimar, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, in which a basis for Functionalism was made. Always mentioned as the most typical architectural example of Constructivism is "Tatlin's Tower" from 1920. It was a monumental building envisioned by the Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin, but never built. It was planned to be erected in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, as the headquarters and monument of the Comintern (the Third International). The constructivist created a new mode of expression, a collage, containing a time/motion aka the fourth dimension.
El Lissitzky"Proun 19D", 1920-21, MoMA, New York.
Going further back it is possible to see a natural progression which lead to Modern Art movements, to Op Art. One can say that artists, even the ancient Greeks and Romans, created illusions of visual reality by using the basic geometric principles, the ancient techniques was rediscovered by the Renaissance painters who experimented with optical illusions so a flat surface could appear three-dimensional. The optical illusions were continued by the Mannerist painters, the Baroque painters and so on.
Artists such as the Impressionist Claude Monet, (1840-1926), the Impressionist and Pointillist Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and the Postimpressionist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Vasarely’s favourite painter, have inspired the Op Artist with there theories of optics. Sometimes Impressionism is called Optical Realism because of its almost scientific interest in the actual visual experience and effect of light, and movement on appearance of objects. The Impressionists famous motto was: "human eye is a marvelous instrument".

Optical Art is a method of painting, it is abstract art using geometrical forms to create an optical illusion, it is dynamic visual art. Colours are used in creating visual effects, such as afterimages and trompe-l'oeil. Paintings and sculptures created of black and white planes or contrasting colours seem to move and vibrate.
Time magazine gave in an article called "Op Art: Pictures that attack the eye" published in October 1964, the term "Op Art" to paintings that focused on manipulation of the eye.

The idea of Op Art was poetic play with light, to confuse the eye, and not visual irritations, and it was to highlight the fact that the eyes can trick the mind in to seeing things that are not there and that if visual illusions can trick the eye so can words and propaganda.

Op Art strived to break down the barriers between art and technology, as well as to establish relationships between the various branches of science, such as optics and cybernetics. It embodies new uses of form and shape, including industrial aesthetics.

Is Op Art synonymous with Kinetic Art? The answer is Yes or No.  
A simple explanation is that both Op Art and Kinetic Art concentrate on the idea of creating illusion of movement on a flat plane.

However Kinetic art is first and foremost art that contains moving parts or depends on motion for its effect, e.g. Alexander Calder's mobiles that are moved either by air currents or by some artificial means - usually electronic or magnetic.

Kinetic Art originated in Russia by Constructivists such as the Russian sculptor Naum Gabo (1890-1977), a pioneer of Kinetic Art. Also the Hungarian painter, photographer and Bauhaus-professor László Moholy-Nagy was highly influenced by constructivism and a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts.

The emergence of Op art and kinetic art in the early 1960s evinced a strong interest in objectivity and in scientific experiment. Fascinated by the physical laws of light and optics, a whole generation of artists devoted themselves to explore visual phenomena and principles of perception.


Joseph Albers, (German/American, 1888-1976) "Homage to the Square: Soft Spoken", 1969.
Victor Vasarely, (Hungarian/French, 1908-1997) "Vonal-Ksz", 1968.
Yaakov Agam, (Israeli, 1928, "Synthesis: Solfage Fusion", Serigraph from "Fusion suite", 1978.
Julian Stanczak, (Poish/American, 1928), "Passing Contour", 1960s.
Bridget Riley, (English, 1931), "Blaze 1", 1962.
Almir de Silva Mavignier, (Brazilian, 1925), "Two squares", 1967.
Richard Anuszkiewicz, (American, 1930), "Deep Magenta Square", 1978.
 click here for full size
Friday, Oct. 23, 1964
- Op Art contains all the ingredients of an optometrist's nightmare.
- Optical art is this year's dress length.
- Op fascinates the way a kaleidoscope does a child.
- Its pitfall is that fascination often turns, by repetition, to boredom.
- Op art are the essentially static visual phenomena that enslave and enthrall the eye.
- We consider ourselves technicians, in the medieval sense, rather than artists.
- Optics is a tool, as perspective once was.

MAN'S eyes are not windows, although he has long regarded them as such. They can be baffled, boggled and balked. They often see things that are not there and fail to see things that are. In the eyes resides man's first sense, and it is fallible.

Preying and playing on the fallibility in vision is the new movement of "optical art" that has sprung up across the Western world. No less a break from abstract expressionism than pop art, op art is made tantalizing, eye-teasing, even eye-smarting by visual researchers using all the ingredients of an optometrist's nightmare. Manhattan 's commercial galleries are beginning to find space on their walls for it, and the Museum of Modern Art is planning an op show titled "The Responsive Eye" early next year. Says the show's organizer, Curator William Seitz: "These works exist less as objects than as generators of perceptual responses."

Pleasure in Precision. "Optical art is this year's dress length," says Carl J. Weinhardt Jr., director of Manhattan 's

Gallery of Modern Art, which will not show any. Some critics already are throwing their weight behind op in dubious battle with pop. Actually, they both share an everyman's land. If anything, they are opposite sides of the same coin, gambling on what art can become.

Scornful of the emotionalism and accident in abstract expressionism, op artists know where they stand. Precision is their pleasure. Their art instantly engages the beholder, yet does not demand his involvement or insist that he relate it to the world of objects, emotions or experiences. Op fascinates the way a kaleidoscope does a child. Its pitfall is that fascination often turns, by repetition, to boredom.

Op art has a legitimate ancestry. Cézanne, Seurat and Monet seized upon newly proposed theories of optics when they painted. In this century, such constructivists as Mondrian and Malevich were the forebears of op art's dry, highly controlled use of color, which sometimes—as in the work of Britain 's labyrinth-making Jeffrey Steele, 33 (above) —amounts to rejecting color. When they do use color, however, it is to stimulate the first sense directly rather than to enhance forms. 
Sleights of Art. The immediate father figures of op art are Josef Albers, 76, that pioneer in the perception of color, and Victor Vasarely, 56 (see opposite page), a Hungarian who lives in Paris. Albers paints only colored squares. Vasarely dons the craftsy lab coat instead of the smock and refers to his work as visual research.

Their influence has given birth to optical artists in a dozen countries, from Israel 's Yaacov Agam to remote Iceland 's poet-painter Diter Rot. Last summer the pavilions at the Venice Biennale and the attics of Germany 's Dokumenta III dickered and chattered with electrically driven, and even electronically musical, kinetic op. At the square root of op art are the essentially static visual phenomena that enslave and enthrall the eye. The op artist's job is to turn those illusions into sleights of art. Some examine the way a single color looks darker than it is against a lighter background. Some, like Steele, place contrasting shapes together, which cause the eye to perceive them alternately as figure and ground; the theory is that such shifts move between stimulation and repose, possibly to relieve eyestrain. Richard Anuszkiewicz, 34, plays with afterimages, or the way one color engenders the false sensation of its complement on the retina. In his Union of the Four (at right), the red pigment throughout the painting is the same hue, despite what the eye sees. Another optical effect often exploited by op is the moiré pattern, familiar in the shimmer of watered silk fabrics. Fundamentally, these flashes of apparent reflection are created whenever two or more grids of parallel or periodic rulings—window screens, for example—are overlapped. When misaligned slightly, they produce ripples and curves not actually inherent in the grids. The smallest angle of change yields the greatest, most disturbed pattern displacements.

AEC & Ph.D. Op artists often work in teams. Vasarely's son, yclept Yvaral, has helped him start the Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel in Paris —six researchers who resemble the Atomic Energy Commission more than café-sitting artists. Germany boasts a group called Zero, begun in 1959 by three artists who hold Ph.D. degrees; they call for "new idealism" as opposed to the "new realism" of pop. The Italians have two op groups, the Gruppo N in Padua and the Gruppo T in Milan , which hopes to "codify visual phenomena, just as music was codified into notes."

Dating from 1959, Gruppo N numbers five young artists more adept with pliers and power drills than brushes who meet for seminars once a week. Says N-Man Manfredo Massironi, 27, "We consider ourselves technicians, in the medieval sense, rather than artists." Going to the Nth degree, they use prisms and grids, often machine-driven, whose rippling moiré patterns look more vibrant through spotlighted darkness (at left, top). A similar splinter group is Spain 's Equipo 57, who like others sign their work collectively (lower left). Their theory starts with "interactivity," in which any two planes in a painting are separated by an S curve, and end up as mathematically interlocked—and complicated—as a Bucky Fuller dome.

One loner living in Germany , a tall Brazilian, Almir de Silva Mavignier, 39, is the prototype op artist (lower right). He works slowly, sells for little, and does not care for fame. "Think about the anonymous craftsmen who built that," he said recently, peering from behind gold-rimmed spectacles at the Ulm cathedral. "They have been depersonalized, yet might have died with satisfaction that they helped create something still pulsating 500 years later." His works, dotted with neat cones of oil, are uniformly produced in permutations of the spectrum: a painstaking topography that seems to prick the retina.

British Coolth. An unusual number of op artists come from Latin America . One is a Venezuelan named Jésus Raphael Soto, 41, now working in Paris , who calls his work "vibrations" (left), though he states that he has never read a physics book. His colored aluminum bars, suspended from fine nylon threads in shadow boxes, sway in front of lined backgrounds and dematerialize. "See how the stiff bars become fluid and luminous," says Soto. Like conductors' batons summoning music from strings, they do assume a sonorous life.

The British have already scored with Bridget Riley, 32 (TIME, May 1), whose stark black-and-white patterns have made viewers physically sick. She generally lets craftsmen execute her designs, has a standoffishness and coolth matched by her countryman, Steele. "These pictures are not necessarily meant to be looked at," says Steele. Another Englishman is Cambridge-educated Michael Kidner (below), at 46 one of the oldest of the flicker boys. Years ago he bashed away at abstract expressionism, but, says he, "never convinced myself that the gesture I was making had much significance." Then he learned that he could make people see colors that, in fact, he did not paint. "I use optics," says he, "as a means to an end that is bigger—in short, a good painting. Optics is a tool, as perspective once was."

American Impersonality. The Americans, such as Julian Stanczak, 35, who roomed with Anuszkiewicz while studying under Albers at Yale, try not to imitate nature. "I use visual activities," says Stanczak, "to run parallel to it" (right). There is even a U.S. group, impersonally called Anonima. Composed of three young men, Francis Hewitt (below), Edwin Mieczkowski (next page) and Ernst Benkert, who met at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and Oberlin College in 1958 and '59, they believe that the rule and the compass are proper artist's tools. Like other op artists, they dislike artistic preciousness, the expression of the prima donna personality on canvas, and psychic plumbing into the meaning of art. They also hold, says Hewitt, that "if people find our art dull, that doesn't really bother us that much. The quality and depth of the experience depend on the willingness to perceive and persistence to overcome certain levels of frustration. We don't want to make our paintings popular."

Much op art is removed from the artist's subjective discovery. It is the result of a mechanical muse, and the artist becomes a computer programmer churning out visual experiences. Some, like moiré patterns, suddenly reveal new sensations that man never knew were within his visible province. But is it therefore science and not art?

Perhaps. By analyzing wave lengths of visible light, scientists might well make the paintings on these pages. But they have not bothered, and if they had tried, the man-hours would have far outnumbered the time spent by artists using intuition. Still, what makes the end product not the same as waves on an oscilloscope? One artist has an answer. He is John Goodyear, 34, an associate professor of art at Rutgers University , whose work consists of gently moving colored lattices (above). Not as chilly an artist as most oppers, he lets his eight-year-old daughter pick his colors. Says Goodyear: "I want to include real space in my paintings, to squeeze it, negate it, play in it." From all that caprice, come surprises, and there is always the possibility of more. Says he, "These realities in some sense not conceived by man give us insight into a world which was certainly not conceived by man."

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