Optical Art – Concept, Characteristics and Representatives

It is an abstract artistic trend, which arose from the abstract-constructivist movement represented by suprematism, De Slijl and the Bauhaus,  also known as Op art or Optical art . Born in the United States in 1958. This type of art uses mainly optical illusions, based on the composition of purely optical phenomena, sensations of movement on a two-dimensional surface, that is why, in all the works that have been Made in optical art, they make the viewer collaborate actively, either by moving or moving to try to capture the optical effect, which is why these types of works do not have any emotional appearance. Repeat structures are used with a clear order,Optical Art is based on rigorous scientific principles in order to produce unprecedented visual effects. It is an impersonal, technical art, in which the possibility is sometimes open for the viewer to modify the configuration it offers.

Perspective construction is used that the eye cannot fix in space; the Rubin effect , which discovers convexities from figures that share its contours; the moire effect, arising from the interference of concentric lines and circles along with other perceptual illusions of instability, vibration or confusion.

The   optical art as a movement art dating from the end of the decade of the 50 , until the mid-60 was formed as a formal trend, later in 1965, the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), organized an exhibition with name of The Responsive Eye.

Optical art is a pictorial current unlike kinetic art that is sculptural. Therefore, the most outstanding techniques of Op art are:

  • Color juxtaposition is used, with identifiable chromatic nuances, or achromatic using black, white or gray.
  • Positive and negative spaces have the same importance, in Op Art it cannot be created without both.
  • Create a complex of visual tensions in the visionary’s mind, which gives the feeling of being an illusion in motion.
  • Parallel lines that can be sinuous or straight
  • The contrasts have to be chromatic and very marked. There are two types or poly or bichromatic.
  • There are changes in size and shape
  • Figures and shapes are mixed or repeated.
  • They use many geometric figures such as: rectangles, triangles, circles and squares.

After World War II a new stage of abstract artists develops, these artists are not only concerned with representing feelings in their works but also asks the viewer to have an active attitude towards them. In the artistic works carried out by the human eye, the work must be observed carefully and perceive that it moves, apart from looking for the beginning and the end of it. In period, commented previously, the center of this type of art was New York.

In summary, optical art is an abstract artistic modality that is based mainly on the pictorial representation of an optical phenomenon than on the feeling that it is in motion. Its base is a two-dimensional extension that lies to the human eye by optical illusions, to create these optical illusions repeated structures that have a certain order are used. If we differentiate optical art with other outstanding arts, we must emphasize that this type of art is basically about scientific principles whose objective is to develop unique visual effects. Many people define this type of art as something technical, impersonal and that in many occasions gives the probability that the one who observes said work can change the configuration it has.

Main characteristics of optical art

  • The works have a depth effect.
  • Artists use colors, light and shadows with great skill to create their works.
  • In this kind of art, the repetition of simple shapes, lines, cubes and concentric circles, in which black and white predominated and the contrast of complementary colors, is used.
  • This trend in art seeks to create a sensation of movement in the viewer, thanks to optical effects, creating total dynamism on flat surfaces, which before the human eye are transformed into three-dimensional spaces full of vibration, movement and oscillation.
  • It is found in the sculpture of pieces, especially in carving, which is a technique that enables the development of this type of art.
  • It lacks any real movement, that is, all the works made are physically immobile, creating physically static works, therefore this characteristic makes it different from kinetic art.
  • Its main objective is to conceive various visual effects that seem to have movement by means of a flicker or vibration.
  • Used techniques such as parallel lines, they can be sinuous or straight, the marked chromatic contrasts, they can be bichromatic or polis, it also uses modifications in size and shape, mixing figures and shapes, among other optical techniques.
  • It uses simple geometric figures, it can be the case of triangles, rectangles, circumferences, among others. These figures can combine and form more complex figures.
  • It is a technical and impersonal art.
  • The viewer must actively collaborate, either by moving or moving, in order to try to understand the optical effect that the work has.
  • He uses acrylic paint as a technique, that is why he gets clean and defined bases.
  • The artist does not try to represent situations or sensations in his works, since there is no type of feeling that is reflected in these works.
  • Another objective is to produce and create unique visual effects.
  • Use scientific principles with the aim of creating unique visual effects.
  • They are artistic representations that originate from a development of geometric abstraction.

There are several other characteristics that define visual art, but those discussed above are the most prominent.


Featured Optical Art Artists

Antonio Lizarazu Balué:  Born in 1963 in Spain, he was a self-taught Digital Artist. Most of his work is related to science. His work presents an allegorical display of the luminous entity, the decomposition of light into almost spectrally pure colors, it is reconstructed in repeated spatial folds that accentuate the symmetry of the composition. Its basic elements are color and symmetry, and both are parts that constitute the natural environment that supports the description of light. His series on Liquid Crystals, X-rays of the human body, Optical Art, Entropy Crystals, Geometric Abstraction, Fractals, Wood, etc. they are a clear example of the artistic work of this author.

Bridget Riley: Born in the UK in 1931, she was a leading figure in Optical art, creating complex configurations of abstract shapes designed to produce striking optical effects. At the end of the 1950s he was influenced by the pointillism of Georges Seurat, later he would dedicate a monographic work (1970). He achieved a great reputation through the abstract works he executed in the 1960s, with different retrospective exhibitions of his works being held later.

Victor Vasarely: was born in Hungary in 1908. He became interested in abstract art and the Muheely school that was the principles of the Bauhaus. His most important first work was Zebra, which is considered today the first work of Op art. Later he developed his own model of geometric abstract art, with optical effects of movement, ambiguity of shapes and perspectives, and unstable images, using various materials but using a minimum number of shapes and colors. He had consideration for measured, rested, rational and serene painting, but with a long evolution and with various stages in his artistic production.

Apart from these three artists we can also highlight artists such as the creators of this trend who are: Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Lawrence Poons, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Josef Albers. These were the initiators of this type of art and after them other artists from different countries stood out: Carlos Cruz-Diez “from Venezuela in 1923”, Julio Le Parc “from Argentina in 1928″, Eusebio Sempere ” from Spain in 1923 – 1985 “, Youri Messen- Jaschin” from Switzerland in 1941 “, Yaacov Agan” from Israel in 1928 “, Omar Rayo” from Colombia in 1928-2010), among other artists Featured.


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