OPTICAL ART - A STUDY

Optical art, or Op art as it is better known, became extensively popular in Europe and in the United States in the mid 1960s. The term was first coined in America’s Time magazine in October 1964, and by around 1965 its integration into popular culture was widespread. Although a new trend in 1964, optical art was by no means a new concept. From as early as 1935 artists such as Victor Vasarely and Josef Albers had explored optics and colour relationships in painting. In the furore created by the popularity of op art in the 60s, pioneers like Vasarely were rediscovered and are often included in the Op art cluster, which, as with many terms attributed to art movements, is an uneasy label for many of the artists grouped under it. The shared element ( the geometrical technique) sets these artists apart as a disparate group, which is essentially what they are.

The style is generally characterised by hard-edged black and white patterns or geometric shapes as in the early works of Vasarely and Bridget Riley. Vasarely stressed that "to experience the presence of a work of art is more important than to understand it". This statement is the key to understanding a lot of the stimulus that instigated op art. Artists like Vasarely and Riley concentrated on the virtual experience that the works could create as opposed to having a group theory or manifesto to go by. .Its images are mystifying and confusing but above all visually compelling. Whether the viewer is attracted by the vivid use of colour relationships or the visual trickery/trompe l’oeil (French term used in art history literally meaning "trick of the eye"), there is definitely more than meets the eye to optical art.

Bridget Riley’s early black and white op art paintings are specifically recognisable by their contrasting use of black against white and on immediate viewing instantly echo the vibrant 60s due to the widespread imitation of her works in retail outlets at the time.

Op art also influenced record design. Vertigo was set up in 1969 as a specialist progressive label by Phonogram. All the original albums on the label are characterised by the black and white "swirl" label design, intended to induce vertigo when watched spinning round on a turntable.

The Dutch artist, Maurits Cornelius Escher explored the world of optical illusions with a very unique and distinctive approach. Escher is best known for his graphic works which continually challenge our views of reality - spatial illusions created in fantastic surroundings, at times humorous, and usually with repeating geometric patterns or "tessellations" (tiling).

In op art the optical effects that are employed and remain intrinsic to this art are not necessarily solely optical illusions.

Op art intends to stimulate the eye through optical effects rather than creating illusions.  

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