Art Styles: Op Art

Victor Vasarely's painting," Zebras" a great example of Op ArtOp art, also known as optical art, is a genre of visual art that makes use of optical illusions. Optical Art is a mathematically-themed form of Abstract art, which uses repetition of simple forms and colors to create vibrating effects, moiré patterns, foreground-background confusion, an exaggerated sense of depth, and other visual effects. The term "Op Art" first appeared in print in Time magazine in October 1964, though works which might now be described as "op art" had been produced for several years previously. For instance, Victor Vasarely's painting, Zebras,(shown here) is made up entirely of curvilinear black and white stripes that are not contained by contour lines. Consequently, the stripes appear to both meld into and burst forth from the surrounding background of the composition. Also the early black and white Dazzle panels of John McHale installed at the This Is Tomorrow exhibit in 1956 and his Pandora series at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1962 demonstrate proto-op tendencies.

In a sense, all painting is based on tricks of visual perception: manipulating rules of perspective to give the illusion of three-dimensional space, mixing colors to create the impression of light and shadow, and so on. With Optical Art, the rules that the viewer's eye uses to try to make sense of a visual image are themselves the "subject" of the artwork. Op art works are abstract, with many of the better known pieces made in only black and white. When the viewer looks at them, the impression is given of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibration, patterns, or alternatively, of swelling or warping. Hands drawing Hands op art by M.C. EscherIn the mid-20th century, artists such as Victor Vasarely, Josef Albers and M.C. Escher (shown here) experimented with Optical Art. Escher's work, although not abstract, deals extensively with various forms of visual tricks and paradoxes.

In 1965, an exhibition called The Responsive Eye, created by William C. Seitz was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The exhibition focused on the perceptual aspects of art, which result both from the illusion of movement and the interaction of color relationships. The exhibition was enormously popular with the general public, though less so with the critics. Critics dismissed Op art as portraying nothing more than trompe l'oeil, or tricks that fool the eye. Regardless, Op art's popularity with the public increased, and Op art images were used in a number of commercial contexts. As an "official" movement, Op Art has been given a life-span of around three years. This doesn't mean, though, that every artist ceased employing Op Art as their style by 1969. Bridget Riley is one noteworthy artist who has moved from achromatic to chromatic pieces, but has steadfastly created Op Art from its beginning to the present day. Additionally, anyone who has gone through a post-secondary fine arts program probably has a tale or two of Op-ish projects created during color theory studies.
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