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Op Art: How Illusionary Effects Influenced

Cataract 3, Bridget Riley, 1967
Cataract 3, Bridget Riley, 1967

Masses? Do your eyes not know where to look at the image above? Or the image seems as if waving? Can you distinguish the colors from each other? Could you say the exact colour you see in the image? So many questions… However all the questions and all the illusionary effect you look through, forms Op Art! And the real aim of the movement is asking these questions to your eyes and prove some optical and colour theories. Then take a look at the hallucinating world of Op Art and play with perception of eye! Attention: This journey also includes a retrospective look at the commercials and fashion in the 60s, too!

Let’s Turn The Clock Back: Baby Footsteps of Op Art

As a new art form, Op Art was firstly seen at the exhibition called “Le Mouvement” in 1955. When it was seen at the exhibition in Paris, it was revealed that high-volumed voiced steps of a new style of art were being heard! So Op Art had the possibility of shaking perception of social tastes and choices in the 60s.

 In 1964, Optical Art (or Op Art as abbreviation) was firstly used as a term by Time magazine. In the recent decade Op Art gave a new breath to the art world and it brought brand new perception of art which was quite matching the popular trends and tastes of the day.

The real turning point to blow out the movement so fast was the exhibition arranged in New York Museum of Modern Art in 1965. The exhibition’s main focus was perceptual abstraction which was quite popular and different at that time and it was called as “Responsive Eye”. The names such as Bridget Riley, Vasarely, Albers and Anuszkiewicz’s works were exhibited in the light of color theories and geometrical principles. 

Albers, Wide Light From Homage to The Square
Albers, Wide Light From Homage to The Square

It is also important to mention the name Josef Albers who was a revolutionary painter and teacher at Bauhaus. Actually Josef Albers was one of the name behind the movement. Some critics sees Albers as the father of Op Art even. His new way of researching and teaching colour studies influenced Op Art artists such as Vasarely and Anuszkiewicz.

Illusionary and Geometrical: What Was The Purpose Behind Op Art?

Op Art’s main aim is to create an illusion at the optical part of the eye in brief. Therefore Op Artists used abstract geometry to form the effect of illusion and dynamism in vision. This effect actually occurs as the result of illusion of the perception and perspective. Op Art invites the viewer’s eyes to infinite dance on the optical illusion of the work. It creates both fun and playfulness. It is the systematic manipulation of  shapes and colours, deals with the perception of eye and visual. Therefore it was a challenge for questioning reality and reliability of colours in the 50s. It destabilizes the view with the effect of vibration and flashing. The surface which is actually 2 dimensional seems like 3 dimensional or creates a hallucination effect. 

Technique and art is blended in the pot of Op Art. Artists need to take advantage of geometry and mathematics because without the monochronic rules of technique it is impossible to create such effects. Besides Op Art was also kneaded scientific ideas. As well as mathematics and geometry the rules optics were included in this movement. 

Space Researches and Rise of Commercials: Beginning of a New Age

In the 1960s the importance given to science was very foregrounded in society. It created the social vision of the day. On the other hand, scientific researches, navigations and development of technological devices went on and Op Art was quite suitable to fill the changing perception of life with its geometrical illusions.

 Movement in Squares, 1961,  Intake, 1964, Bridget Riley
 Movement in Squares, 1961,  Intake, 1964, Bridget Riley

Along with that there was a huge promotion of a beginning of a new age, a space age that nothing would not be the same anymore. This way of thinking was also very helpful to blow up the commercials and feed the consumer culture. Art would be a way to make people spend more money on products and services. Even the commercials resembled like so-called “art-works”.

The Daily Mail 9th June 1965 - Pictures: Gordon Carter, Drawing: May Routh
The Daily Mail 9th June 1965 – Pictures: Gordon Carter, Drawing: May Routh

Change in Vision: Op Art’s Effect on Fashion and Design 

Even Op Art highly criticized these far fetched way of directing people to an illusionary world, actually at the end, they had just become a part of it without consent. Op Art works were on advertising brochures, fashion, album sleeves and interior design after gain popularity. Until “The Responsive Eye” exhibition was opened in New York, the copies of their works had already copied without consent for fashion of the decade. Even if Riley was totally opposed the idea and she sued for the copyright issue she was unsuccessful to receive a result in favor of her.

Unfortunately there was no escape for Op Art to not being a part of mass culture. Even the artist’ first ideas were quite the opposite of what they become, eventually they melted in popular culture instead of remaining as high art. 

The design of Kaplan, the pattern of Anuszkiewicz, 1963
The design of Kaplan, the pattern of Anuszkiewicz, 1963
Pierre Cardin, Futuristic Collection, 196
Pierre Cardin, Futuristic Collection, 196

The wave of optical art affected the fashion and design world, as well. One of the fashion designer of the the era Jacques Kaplan designed a jacket while Richard Anuszkiewicz made the op art influenced patterns on it. It showed the collaboration of optical art and fashion. One of the best known designer of today, Pierre Cardin, influenced the patterns of Optical Art and he created fashion collections with geometric patterns influenced by optical art. These patterns and the style of Pierre Cardin were very well received. He also emphasized his futuristic vision of fashion and created the effect of the fashion of space age.

As the years go by Op Art melted into the mass culture and production because it was very loved by people and it created attracting effect on the viewer. So it was used in everywhere mainly in advertising. However there was another reason that people love these geometrical patterns. It made people think and dream about futuristic future! Apart from that the wrappage of products or show cards with optical patterns were quite appealing to make people buy!

Representatives of Op Art

The Power of Zebras: Victor Vasarely

victor vasarely zebras
Victor Vasarelyi Zebra, 1938
Victor Vasarelyi Vega 222, 1970
Victor Vasarelyi Vega 222, 1970

Victor Vasarely is regarded as the father figure of Op Art. He was from Bauhaus school. It is highly admitted that his work Zebras that he made in 1938 was the pioneer work of the movement. The contrast of white and black, creates the illusionary effect on the viewer. In the advancing years he also made series such as Vega inspired by the star Vega. In these series he searched the effect of using changing colours as well as creating kinetic energy and profundity while creating 3 dimensional effect on the viewer.

Mesmerizing Effect of Curves: Bridget Riley

Riley has become one of the best woman artists of United Kingdom. In the early years of career she was influenced from post impressionists. She was inspired the illusionary and sometimes optical effects of Seurat. In the 50s she developed her own style. On account of her work Current exhibited in “Responsive Eye” she became one of the foregrounded representative of Op Art. With black and white curves she investigated the optical illusions and the reactions that the eyes give directly as an instinct. The eyes are always in need of stabilize the view. However in Current, because of the curves and the effect of using black and white contrast, eyes are not able to stabilize the view by focusing one place in the image. Contrary to stabilize the view one forces wander his/her eye on the painting.

Bridget Riley. Current 1964 38932493384
Current, 1964, Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley Ra
Ra, 1981, Bridget Riley

Riley also was interested in exploring the effect of colour therefore in the advancing years she also made her colourful stripe paintings. Colour and patterns were two significant elements in her paintings for the research of visual effects. It is also could be emphasized that her works need a meticulous working both mathematically and technically to reach this kind of effects.

From 2D to 3D: Richard Anuszkiewicz

Temple of the Evening Sunset with Dark Blue, 1985, Richard Anuszkiewicz
Temple of the Evening Sunset with Dark Blue, 1985, Richard Anuszkiewicz

Richard Anuszkiewicz was an American artist. He gave importance to create  abstract compositions with geometrical forms as well as giving the effect of hallucination and illusion. He was interested in Optical Art because he was one of the students of Josef Albers at Yale University. In his later works Anuszkiewics also transformed his two dimensional works into three dimensional sculptures. That show that how Optical Art was a long-termed movement.

Cover image: Richard Anuszkiewicz | Light Magenta Square

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