VICTOR VASARELY - VOLUME 3
At the beginning of this third millennium, the work of Victor Vasarely represents a turning point for art that is directed towards mathematics and scientific research, leading towards horizons unknown until now.
Influenced by the ideas of the Bauhaus and fascinated by the restraint of the work of Malevitch, he pondered over the function of painting and the necessity of the canvas.
The work of art stood as the last bastion of pure form perceived as a whole, rejecting any factorization. Starting with the geometry of the infinitesimal, every global form could be reconstituted by means of a series of simpler elements, and yet no artist before Victor Vasarely had paid much heed to geometry nor had any artist derived from it the principles of aesthetics. It is these principles that would lead to the establishment of an art for society as a whole, no longer limiting it to the scale of the individual.
His intuition quickly drove him to feel and select that which, in the plastic arts, would lead to a science of optics, and beyond that to the physics of lights. His methodical and curious mind, and his desire to rationalize the creative phenomenon impelled him to invent a technique that would allow him to realize his ideas. Very early on he understood the important influence scientific discoveries exert on the conscience of contemporary man.
The optical and geometric research of Vasarely brilliantly conveys the fascinating problems of visual perception by presenting illusions of multidimensional, polychrome, moving, and stirring spaces. In 1929 he studied graphic art and design in Budapest, at the “Mühely”, a branch of the Bauhaus. He defined an original concept of kinetic art, in which the expression of movement is based mainly on the structured development of a composition on the plane and the emotivity of the spectator. His work led him to develop flexible methods and modular tools in order to effect permutational art (Planetary Folklore), whose potential is far from being exhausted, without allowing himself to be tied down to any one method and by always favoring the “sensible eye that decides if reason was right”.
Following the structural experiments of the “Graphic Period”, Vasarely became convinced, through his “Belle Isle” period during which he turned towards the abstraction of natural forms, that the universe is formed of “primary constants”. That the idea engendered the development of a language of forms based on geometric elements as well as grid and structural patterns. His thoughts concerning the theories of perception (Gestalt theory) led him to the idea that superposing perceived structures can intensify the suggestion of movement on a surface. Demonstrating that it is possible to depict time and movement by using a simple surface, Vasarely laid down the bases for kinetic art in color. He then devoted himself to delving deeper into this style that he had created.
Vasarely joins the development of Op-art to the idea of an ethical and social utopia, a democratic art that wishes for and even demands the active participation of the spectator, whose movements cause the optical phenomena to appear. Furthermore, he defines the role of the artist as that of an intermediary who offers models and prototypes and who proposes a program, which forms the basis for further compositions. During the 1970s, following this path towards the democratization of art, Vasarely disseminated much information through the distribution of his serigraphs, multiples, and other works, as well as by the construction of architectural integrations.
Beyond Op-art, Vasarely’s work occupies a place in the line of a deeper evolution, that of the appropriateness of art to the latent characteristics of society. He knew that we live in an essentially consumer society and that it exerts a “cultural pressure” on art, necessitating a multiplication of works from a limited source of creative originality. That is why permutational art is the essential element of a social art, offering to every individual, by the clever device of combinations, completely different yet creatively equal works.
Great artists are generally visionaries who project themselves into the future without abandoning the present, and we are forced to observe that the thoughts of Vasarely in the 1950s, recorded in his “Rough Notes”, were forward-looking. He wrote about the active participation of the spectator, exhibitions projected onto screens, the internet, e-mail, works of art in perpetual evolution, free access to art, and programming allowing re-creations.
Vasarely felt the need for a motivation that would link him to the universal. He surveyed that fourth dimension where geometry meets wave mechanics and corpuscular physics. Thanks to parallel and perpendicular lines, as well as to angles in general, he brings forth unique visions and impressions. Vasarely had a keen mind that was unknown or under-estimated by some, but which enabled him to project himself into the future, fostered by an erudition of uncommon depth. He constantly reinvented our relationship to space and movement.
Each of us ponders the possibility of another kind of life after death, but Victor Vasarely was preoccupied only by the survival of his work. He wanted it to evolve and be reworked by future generations so that it would remain alive, and most importantly, forever within reach of everyone.
A good man, an essentially generous creator, he saw his commitments through to the end. There is no doubt that a new look at his work is essential, as it will surely reveal as yet undeciphered messages of this possibly utopian, certainly visionary, artist.
Every time I visit his grave at Annet-sur-Marne, on which I have had inscribed on the granite one of his favorite phrases, “it is not the name of the artist that must shine, but his work”, I return calmed by the realization that thanks to the survival of this own work, Victor Vasarely is always here, with us.