1906, Pecs, Hungary – 1997, Paris, France
Victor Vasarely was a French-Hungarian artist credited as the father of the Op Art movement (or “Optical Art” using optical illusion and abstract art from 1964). Utilizing geometric shapes and colorful graphics, the artist created compelling illusions of spatial depth, as seen in his work Vega-Nor (1969). Vasarely’s method of painting borrowed from a range of influences, including Bauhaus design principles, Wassily Kandinsky, and Constructivism.
Born Vásárhelyi Gyozo on April 9, 1906 in Pécs, Hungary, he briefly studied medicine at university, but after two years dedicated himself instead to painting. In the late 1920s, Vasarely enrolled at the Muhely Academy in Budapest, where the syllabus was largely based on Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus school in Germany. After settling in Paris in 1930, Vasarely worked as a graphic artist while creating many proto-Op Art works.
The artist experimented in a style based in Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism during the 1940s, before arriving at his hallmark checkerboard works. While Vasarely’s earlier work was concerned more with color theory, during the 1950s and 1960s his work became more focused on the optical potential of the two-dimensional surface. He began to use complex and colorful patterns to actively engage the viewer’s eye, and to convey a sense of kinetic energy across the two-dimensional surface. Through precise combinations of lines, geometric shapes, colors, and shading, he created eye-popping paintings, full of the illusion of depth, movement, and three-dimensionality. More than pleasing tricks for the eye, Vasarely insisted, “pure form and pure color can signify the world.”
After a long and celebrated career, Vasarely died on March 15, 1997 in Paris at the age of 90. His works can be found in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.