Friday, 13 February 2015

Op Art

Perceptual art, Op Art, Kinetic Art are all names that describe the visual art that relies on mainly black and white optical illusions as well as colour juxtaposition and contrast to create moiré, three dimensional and movement effects in paint. 

It could be argued that earlier artists such as Delauney, Kandinsky and Picabia were influential in this style.  Certainly Kandinsky's connection with the Bauhaus would be relevant here. Both he and Joseph Albers were teachers at that art institution, along with Paul Klee.  Joseph  Albers keenly investigated colour effects, minimal artists explored the effects of close colour assimilations, for example Mark Rothko, who was influenced by the German Expressionists.  Joseph Albers, along with many other artists left Germany before the start of the second world war and eventually started a school in the Black Mountains College in North Carolina where he developed his ideas of contrasted and related colours and their visual effects, and painted his Homage to the Square.  In 1963 he wrote Interaction of Colour.  "Practical exercises demonstrate through colour deception (illusion) the relativity and instability of colour" (p. 2 Interaction of Colour, Josef Albers, Published by Yale University Press in 1963).

So too Cubism, Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism and Dadaism were the defining roots of Op Art.

Cubism had broken planes down into cubes or squares to enable the viewer to observe more than just the front face of an object. Italian Futurism endeavoured to create movement with the help of chrono-photograpers, namely Etienne-Jules Marey who in 1882 produced sequential stills to represents the gait of animals and humans.  Constructivism, also influenced by Bauhaus and De Stijl sought to develop sculpture and ultimately architecture based on the angular/geometric styles of Suprematism as practiced by Malevich. The Dadaists brought many of these controversial styles to the awareness of the public through their exhibitions, particularly Duchamp's work, which rejected capitalist ideologies in favour of irrationality. It was this that effectively enabled  platform for a "new art" to become established after the horrors of the First World War.

Vorticism also played its part as it had during the war when Edward Wadsworth designed Dazzle camouflage for allied ships, thereby confusing the enemy as to the ship's speed an direction.

Artists like Victor Vasarely, Georges Vantongerloo, Julio le Parc and Francois Morellet, went on to develop ideas which lead to the Op Art style of painting which was one of the signifiers of the "new art" previously mentioned.   To a certain extent, in my view, it was also a means of turning away from the visual horrors of two World Wars and the political  turmoil which lay behind them.  The need to intellectualize and comprehend the difficult elements of the optical process effectively anaesthetized emotional responses to the still raw feelings relating to the war.

For the second time  many artists who departed Europe in the face of War decided to choose the USA as their new homes.  The openness of the American way of life meant that they felt liberated emotionally and this enabled new artistic ideas to ferment and flourish.

Artists like Bridget Riley, Michael Kidner, Aleksandar Srnec, and  Richard Anuszkiewicz have continued to expand Op Art, however its raison d'être, rejection of emotional resonances, may well be its downfall, as it projects itself as a cold intellectual visual art.

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