The Optical Art, also known as Op-Art, is an abstract art movement that was born in the US around the 60s. Op-Art is rooted in the European movements that developed during the two World Wars, like De Stijl, and Op-Art is inspired by the Bauhaus experiences, which is the reason why, initially, the movement was strongly criticized for lack of originality. The Op-Art aims to study and research optical illusions and the plastic movement impressions. The involvement of the art work observer is stimulated by the use of lines placed in modular and different structural templates, put together in a way that is appropriate to the colors or the particular abstract subjects represented. The result is a two-dimensional effect in which the observer witnesses a spectacle of images that seem to flash, hide, inflate or deform.
In 1965, after “The Responsive Eye” exhibit at MoMA, the critics changed their minds about the exposed works, by officially recognizing the birth of a new form of art that soon will become famous both in America and in Europe. The Op-Art soon started to contaminate the design, fashion (with Courrèges), movie (Henri-Grorges Clouzot among the first), architectural and visual art worlds, only to fall into oblivion just three years later.
2013 marked the rebirth of Op-Art thanks to the exhibition “Dynamo”, which took place at the Grand Palais in Paris and was divided in various sections featuring 150 artists (including Frank Stella, Anish Kapoor, Dan Flavin, Kenneth Noland), each offering their own interpretation of immaterial, monochrome, emptiness, distortion, instability and interference. And thanks to the ability of producing interferences between the surfaces of the works and the illusionary effects that provoke the observer, this art movement came back to light and gained new success.
“Interferences” is also the title of the exhibition ongoing at the GR Gallery of New York, a gallery that has always had kinetics and optics in its DNA. Open through April 16th, the exhibit puts together the works of four American and European artists who belong to different generations and with different backgrounds: Agentinian Felipe Pantone, American Gilbert Hsiao and Italians Sandi Renko and Nadia Costantini. The interference between the lines, through geometric figures, reversible prospective and the chromatic vibrations, liaises the 25 art pieces exposed at the gallery and creates pulsing compositions characterized by harmony and symmetry like in Hsiao’s art, or by a frenetic energy, like in Pantone’s.
The latter’s art work ranges from graffiti to kinetic art, in which he blends graphic design elements with highly evolved geometric forms represented with strong contrasts and bright colors that are able to produce a strong impact on the observer. “I started my artistic path when I was 12 – he explains – When I used to write my name on the walls
again and again. Then, four years ago, after I finished my studies at the Academia de Bellas Artes of Valencia, I started to transfer the same graffiti style I used to a more abstract kind of art, like the one that now characterizes my work.” The speed with which information travels, which also constantly increases exponentially, is the concept that Pantone reports in his composition and that works as a theme, through his hyperactivity, for his working methods and his continuous trips around the world.
Gilbert Hsiao explored the visual perception mechanics ever since 1980. When in front of his work, the observer perceives an oscillation created by the illusion of an endless wave produced by the physiologic experience of space and movement, where the stripes, meticulously layered in strictly intertwined structures, create a harmonic movement which instills stillness. “Recently, I started to explore the use of irregular-shaped supports as a means of organizing the painting space. The result is a surface in continuous movement, highlighted by a metallic and fluorescent paint applied through an antique compressed air gun.”
The work of Sandi Renko, an Italian from Trieste, is the product of a journey started at the end of the 60s when, after moving to Padua, he was able to understand the cultural agitation of the avant-garde art movements and the Optical art. In the following years, Renko used corrugate cardboard surfaces (also called cannetè) painted with acrylic colors, on which he created tridimensional geometric figures that can be read from various angels, giving the impression of movement. “I am inspired by artists from the 60s – he explains – among which, the great Bruno Munari.”
As a painter and sculptor, Nadia Constantini focuses on the dialogue between negative and positive space with the goal of creating an illusion of movement and depth. In her paintings, stripes of lively and bright paint come out of dark backgrounds, creating complex and constantly-changing shapes. The viewer is caught in a three-dimensional illusion when looking at her “Modulazioni di superficie e Scansioni di superficie” (Surface Modulation and Surface Scans). As the artist put it, “Between the materials I use – plastic, Teflon, PVC and stainless steel – and I, there is a sense of meeting and understanding each other, and accepting transformations through time as well, so that I can allow myself to extract different shapes that are in continuous evolution in time: in any case, to find a place elsewhere.”
Translated by Giulia Casati