History of Op Art
Op Artist Bridget Riley in front of her piece, Movement in Squares (1961)
The year is 1964. The place is the United States. The country is still reeling from the assassination of John F. Kennedy the previous year. The Civil Rights movement is escalating. Even the pop charts are in flux, what with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles leading the British music invasion. “Given the circumstances,” observes About.com’s Art History expert, “it was a perfect time for a new artistic movement to burst on the scene.” And in October of that year, it did.
The Art of Opitical Illusion
Optical Art, as Time magazine called it, or Op art (as everyone else called it) was all about illusion. Graphic patterns and lines – mostly in black and white – were employed to make the viewer believe they were seeing flashes, vibrations, warping and swelling. Even though the image itself was only 2D and quite stationary. An exhibition that went up in 1965 at NYC’s MOMA cemented Op Art’s place in pop culture. Under the direction of William C. Seitz, The Responsive Eye showcased the work of prominent and respected Op artists including: Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, Jesús Soto, Yaacov Agam, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Julio Le Parc, François Morellet.
Here’s a fun and delightfully retro video from 1965 of a very young Mike Wallace (60 Minutes) covering The Responsive Eye:
Of course most things, major art movements included, don’t just materialize. They are a product of their time. “There was a time when meanings were focused and reality could be fixed,” observed op artist Bridget Riley, noting that when “that sort of belief disappeared, things became uncertain and open to interpretation.” Indeed, the era had become rife with “ambiguous figures and reversible perspective,” opined the art critic Frank Popper, “successive colour contrasts and chromatic vibration; and in three-dimensional works different viewpoints and the superimposition of elements in space.”
In other words: completely different and very exciting.
The stationary yet seemingly undulating Op art compositions expressed the new ambiguity succinctly and in a very eye-catching way, providing a visual representation of the existential crisis that was playing out in the collective unconscious. “The universe, I believe, is uncertain and settled,” commented Riley’s fellow Op artist, Jesús Soto.”I have never sought to show reality caught at one precise moment, but, on the contrary, to reveal universal change, of which temporality and infinitude are the constituent values.” Soto and his fellow mavericks represented this flux with visual illusion, their works suggesting one thing at first glance, but upon closer inspection, something different. “The optical illusion creates different responses in observers through patterns, flashes, contrasts, movement, and hidden imagery,” adds ArtHistory.net. “The observer is pulled into the picture in the same way that he or she is attacked by the image.”
Riu Kiu C by Vitor Vasarely (1960)
Instead of simply drawing what they saw around them, op artists attempted to provide interpretation. To translate it. Rather than what the eye observed, they were concerned with how the eye behaved and they used their art to experiment on it, making it struggle to “read” an image. “The movement never produced a coherent body of ideas,” notes The Art Story, “and the range and scope of its artists’ interests made the Op art label seem very flexible.” Flexible yes, but not really coherent or sound-bitey. Which drove art snobs of the day to turn up their noses up at what they insisted was schlocky and gimmicky. And, as a result, kind of missing the point. “The Op art movement was driven by artists who were interested in investigating various perceptual effects,” continues The Art Story. “Some did so out of sheer enthusiasm for research and experiment, some with the distant hope that the effects they mastered might find a wide public and hence integrate modern art into society in new ways. Rather like the geometric art from which it had sprung, Op art seemed to supply a style that was highly appropriate to modern society.”
Plus, it just looked really cool. The Trompe-l’œil inspired optical illusions. The sleight-of-hand graphics. The visual razzle-dazzle verging on just this side of kitschy…the fun side, of course! What’s not to like?
ISHARYA’s Op Art Collection with Layered Quartz Stones
Fascinated by Op Art, we immediately saw the possibilities for must-have earrings, covetable cuffs, serious statement necklaces and look-at-me rings. We attempted to channel the bold patterns, striking lines and lively – discordant almost, but not – movement into a fresh new collection by working closely with stone artisans from a remote part of Gujarat, India. 2D drawings of the desired effects were sent the craftsman who then handcrafted black and white quartz fused together with industrial adhesive into unique pyramid shapes in alternating patterns.
The rough pyramid shapes were then polished by machine and shipped off to our factory in Thailand to be set into our castings.
In addition to the layered quartz, the designers brought in our signature enamel techniques to accent the plain and layered quartz stones with black and white geoemetric patterns.
Op Art on the SS15 Runway
Black paired with white has been a strong ongoing fashion trend for several seasons now, but the Op Art Reload that showed up on influential catwalks including Roberto, Cavalli, Victoria Beckham, Thakoon and Balmain gave the combination a fun retro twist as fresh as Spring.
Another fresh tip: pair these bold black-and-whites with tone-on-tone jewelry but bags and shoes in super-bright shades and shiny fabrics like patent leather. Great choices would be lipstick red, sizzling-hot pink, safety orange, neon yellow, glow-in-the-dark lime or an eyeblasting blue. Extra flair points for a matching mani and/or eyeliner!
How to you op your art? Be sure to let us know with the hashtag #Isharya!