Op Art (Optical Art) was a graphic art style made famous by Victor Vasarley, and Bridget Riley after a prominent 1965 exhibition featuring the work of these two artists entitled The Responsive Eye.
After this the public became enraptured with the movement, and Op Art began appearing everywhere: in print and television, advertising, as LP album art and as a fashion motif in clothing and interior decoration.
Its roots were in some of the early work by Vasarley, who began painting abstract repeating shapes in the 1930’s; and the work of M.C Escher who became fascinated by the regular Division of the Plane, when he first visited the Alhambra palace, Spain in 1922.
Yet none of Op Art would’ve been possible – let alone embraced by the public – without the prior Abstract, Surrealist, and Expressionist movements that de-emphasized (or, in many cases, eliminated) representational subject matter, and sought to play with the visual field.
Op Art represents a great deal of mathematical ability, planning and technical skill. Though it could easily be reproduced using computers now, the original Op-art of the early to mid 1960’s was all drawn by hand.
The distinguishing features of Op-art:
- gives works the illusion of movement.
- elements employed (color, line and shape) are carefully chosen to achieve maximum effect
- positive and negative spaces in a composition are of equal importance
- use of perspective and careful juxtaposition of color (whether chromatic or monochromatic).
Bridget Riley investigated many areas of perception, but her work with its emphasis on optical effects was never intended to be an end in itself. It was instinctive, not based on theory but guided by what she saw with her own eyes.
As the sixties swung on, Op-Art prints and the mod look gave way to the swirling prints of psychedelia in the late sixties, then led to more muted colours and organic forms taken from nature, such as the floral art nouveau motifs made popular by Biba and later Celia Birtwell’s prints for Ossie Clark.