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Victor Vasarely

Hungarian-French Painter and Sculptor

Victor Vasarely Photo
Movements and Styles: Op Art, Kinetic Art, Modernism and Modern Art

Born: April 9, 1906 - Pécs, Hungary

Died: March 15, 1997 - Paris, France

"A contemporary painter can no longer be content with painting pretty little pictures. He must beautify the details of the modern, grandiose environment, since people need plastic forms same as they need sunlight, oxygen or vitamins."

Victor Vasarely Signature

Summary of Victor Vasarely

Victor Vasarely provided us with some of the most distinctive images and optical effects in 20th-century art. From his days as a commercial graphic designer in 1930s-40s Paris to his final decades developing and marketing what he hoped would become a new universal language for art and architectural design, Vasarely steered a unique course, combining virtuosic technical precision with a scientific awareness of optical and geometrical effects. He is best known for his grid-like paintings and sculptures of the 1960s onwards, which play with the reader's sense of visual form by creating illusory, flickering effects of depth, perspective, and motion. In making the act of looking one of their primary subjects, these works speak to a quintessentially modern concern with the difference between what we can see and what is really there.

Key Ideas

Vasarely was perhaps the first modern artist to realize that Kinetic Art did not have to move. Instead he created an extraordinary series of paintings and sculptures which used geometrical effects to suggest motion within static forms. From illusions of oscillation and vibration to Escher-like tricks whereby apparent indentations in the picture-surface suddenly seem to protrude from it, Vasarely's pioneering techniques not only influenced the Op Art movement of the 1960s, but helped to define the whole psychedelic mood of that decade.
Like his predecessors in the Constructivist and Concrete Art movements, Vasarely wanted to create a universal visual vocabulary for modern art. By the 1960s, he had developed what he called an "Alphabet Plastique" of endlessly interchangeable compositional elements. These small, square units each consisted of a simple combination of figure and ground, whose color and shape could be changed in any number of ways, to be organized in any conceivable pattern. This aspect of Vasarely's work exemplifies a post-Second World War concern with using art to communicate across national and cultural boundaries, by stripping away all topical reference, and using visual effects so simple that they would mean the same thing to any viewer. In this way, Vasarely sought to create what he called a "Planetary Folklore".
As a student of Constructivism, Vasarely believed that art should have a functional purpose within society, an aim he pursued partly by exploring the overlaps between art and architecture. As well as designing murals and other visual features specifically for architectural spaces, Vasarely believed that his visual vocabulary of interchangeable compositional elements could be used in urban planning, as a way of combining qualities of regularity and variety within domestic architecture, street design, and so on. While many artists from the 1910s onwards had considered how modern art and architecture might influence each other, few pursued that idea with such a singular and consistent vision as Vasarely.
Façade of the Foundation Vasarély at Aix-en-Provence, France

In 1947 while walking along a beach on holiday, Victor Vasarely said, “in the rocks, in the pieces of broken bottles, polished by the rhythmic coming and going of the waves, I am certain to recognize the internal geometry of nature.” Painting black and white abstractions, constructed of only geometric shapes, he created the optical illusion of movement that informed Op Art.

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