[500030657] Vasarely, Victor (Persons, Artists) - French painter and printmaker, 1906 or 1908-1997

individual, ENTITY.3317
Life Dates:
1908 – 1997
Hungarian French
Wikipedia Summary:
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Artist Biography:
Born: Pecs, Hungary, 9 April 1908; Died: Paris, 15 March 1997. Vasarely was both the precursor and the godfather of the variant of geometric abstraction known as Optical Art, which saw the height of its popularity in Europe and the USA in the 1960s. True to it's name, this movement in the arts hinged on the use of optical illusion to create a sense of movement or depth out of otherwise un-modeled, flat planes of color. Vasarely showed early promise as an artist, producing competent landscape paintings as early as the age of twelve. He began his studies at the Podolini-Volkmann Academy of Painting from 1925 to 1927 where he studied under Alexander Bortnyik. Bortnyik was a Hungarian artist and an associate of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy while the latter was at the Weimar Bauhaus in the early 1920s. Inspired by the Bauhaus methods of art instruction and thoughtful, rational design, Bortnyik founded the Mahely as a "Hungarian Bauhaus" and this Bauhaus influence, particularly the color theory of Josef Albers and the essential elementary forms of Theo van Doesburg and Walter Gropius, can safely be said to be the foundation of Vasarely's later work. Vasarely would relate later in life: Vasarely taught commercial art because he was of the opinion that painting had had its day in our civilization. That was perhaps a somewhat over-hasty statement, when you think of artists like Matisse, Herbin and a few others. Actually however, all he meant to say was that a certain romantic version of painting was a thing of the past, and naturally he was right . . . He wanted to train us to be constructive people who make useful things that are also beautiful, and who are capable of taking their place in society that will inevitably be determined by the sciences and the machine. Armed with Bortnyik's training Vasarely moved to Paris in 1930 and worked as a graphic designer until the outbreak of World War II. His graphic work of this period showed little indication of the direction his later work would take, instead hewing closely to a Plakatstil-inspired European model of Art Deco. The Surrealist dominated Parisian art scene held little interest for Vasarely, which might explain why he made no attempt during this period to interact with the fine arts world. During this commercial period and the war that followed it, Vasarely continued to experiment with optical effects involving networks of lines and bands and foreground-background reversals, which manifested in compositions such as Chessboard from 1935 and Tiger from 1938. Strictly graphic in nature, these images are early, still-figurative manifestations of the optical illusions that would come to dominate his mature career. The evolution of Vasarely's art after WWII however, did not immediately utilize the knowledge gained from these experiments. From 1945 to 1946, he experimented in a number of styles, from Cubism to Surrealism to Expressionism before abandoning them as ‘wrong paths. After this brief period of experimentation with the styles of the immediate past, and finding the dominant style of the day in Paris, Tachism, to be unappealing, he returned to the foundation of theory and training received at the Muhely over a decade before. Inspired by the geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, in 1947 he began to paint several series of studies of various locations, perhaps most famously the Breton island of Belle-Isle, and most specifically the pebbles and shells on the beach (Meandres and Banghor). This reduction of natural forms to essential forms closely echoes De Stijl, and this period of his career was dominated by abstractions inspired by what he called the inner geometry of nature. One can see in the way he arranges the basic ovoid shapes against flat grounds the first indication of his mature works. Following his experimentation with this variant of De Stijl, he turned to Suprematism for inspiration, resulting in Homage to Malevich, which he created multiple times between 1952 and 1958. Likely referencing the sole Suprematist painters (in)famous black square on a white ground, it is the first painting which Vasarely considered to have no objective reference, and the first which had the sense of movement Vasarely dubbed kinetics. Vasarely had realized by using the illusory effects he learned during his years as a graphic artist, he could take the static shapes used by Malevich and make them move and give an illusion of space, even though they were composed of only simple abstract shapes. In the case of Homage to Malevich, the single black square is stretched into a rhomboid shape that suggests a square seen in linear perspective, while still being rendered in flat planes. This breakthrough, the illusion of movement in a static two-dimensional image led to his initiation of a group exhibition of called "Le Mouvement" in 1955. Other art included Marcel Duchamp's spinning works and Alexander Calder's mobiles, as well as the entirety of the young artists who would later be called Kinetic Artists. Vasarely's contribution to the exhibition was in the form of what he called Deep Kinetic works. These works consisted of the networks of black lines that typified his experimental period from before World War II, but painted onto clear acrylic glass screens in sets of three. When arranged together at different angles, the images created by the superimposition of the patterns on each individual screen would be unique to each individual viewer, and would change as the view moved. This involvement of the viewer as an active participant is what distinguishes Vasarely and his contemporaries from the Modern artists who preceded them, as this dialogic relationship is a hallmark of postmodernism. Contrasted against the other works in the show, which actually moved, Vasarely's static images with only an illusory sense of motion were standouts. His experiments in optical illusion, combined with the wittiness of 1960s art critics, led to his work and that of other artists working in similar manners such as Bridget Riley and Jesus Raphael Soto being called Op Art (yes, in reference to Pop Art). The 1960s also saw the emergence of Vasarely's mature work, in which he began to incorporate the color theory he had utilized in his earlier work in concert with the experimentations of form and value which had dominated his work up to that point. This was exemplified in the Planetary Folklore series (1960-64). His compositions of this period were constructed of plastic units basic geometric shapes of varying colors arranged using a grid. This method adapted from his graphic work resulted in highly regular compositions in which the interplay between value and hue created dazzling visual interest. This style, with minor variation, was to be the one in which he worked for the remainder of his career. Vasarely's work had a lasting significance that went beyond his individual career. In the 1960s his work was a direct influence on groups of younger artists such as the Groupe de Recherche Art Visuel (GRAV), whose very name gives credence to Vasarely's experimental and methodical artistic practices. At the same time, he began producing work in multiples, including series of prints for collectors and museums, an in the form of posters, fabric patterns and other images in mass circulation. Believing that his modular method of creating art could be adapted to the design of architecture and urban layouts on a large and completed several of this type of project, a notable example being found at the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. He opened a museum about his own work in 1970 at the chateau de Gordes, near Avignon, and in 1975 he expanded on this by creating the more ambitious Fondation Vasarely on the land of the Jas-de-Bouffon, near Aix-en-Provence, previously owned by Cazanne. Its mission was to attempt to counter what Vasarely considered the we must fight against the visual pollution caused by the massive apartment buildings built in the 1960s which were inhuman and devoid of life. Though briefly dissolved shortly before his death in 1997 due to mismanagement by its director, a revived and restored version of the Fondation is again active in Aix, both preserving the installations and exhibitions display the different stages and periods of his work, their layout a pattern in itself, true to the modular nature of his work.