Op Art


Before started researching on Op Art, I thought it is just about fashion and paintings, but actually it is not, Op art links to mathematics, art, fashion, music and subculture as well.


‘Breathe’ (1966) – By Bridget Riley

‘Optical’ from the phrase of ‘Optical Art’ refers to our eyes because it means that it concentrates more on how you see the piece of artwork than focuses more on what the subject of the work is. Optical Art is also known as ‘Op Art’ and it began to be called this name as it refers to the 1960s, many artists started to develop their artworks through the use of different visual effects. The Op Art paintings create illusions to trick your eyes which create similar patterns to confuse you. It features confusing, exaggerated and exciting effects through the piece of artwork by the use of colors and shapes. Op Art features abstract patterns and when you look at the pattern, you can see hidden images, flashing, vibrating, swelling, warping effects and moving patterns. Many famous Op Art paintings are in black and white color and it features contrasting colors with the foreground and the background.  The way using black and white color creates strong color contrasts which excite our eyes and so when we look at the patterns, it confuses our eyes and we can see flashing, moving patterns, etc. Op Art features repeated representation of simple geometric forms and it usually show in different proportions. It also links to Kinetic Art as it depicts virtual movements which Is similar to the idea of Kinetic Art as Kinetic Art is an art which artists trying to portray real motions.

‘Some artists have also proven that art can be mathematical. In fact, without math, we would not have many works of art.’ (Roza, 2005)

The quote on above explains that mathematics have taken an important role in the development of art. Op art heavily refers to mathematics as it links to symmetry. Symmetry means geometric patterns which show the idea of same patterns, shapes or objects on both sides of a centerline. The geometric patterns  refers to its repetition of line patterns which create two dimensional effects and shows the idea of shapes, movements and depth within the patterns.

Op Artists usually create Op Art paintings in two ways:

  1. By using lines and patterns and strong color contrast

Bridget Riley – Current (1964)

As you can see on the painting above m the black and white wavy lines are set closely together and it creates volatile figure-ground relationship. The way how they set closely together creates the illusion of moving patterns.

2. Another way that Op Artists use relates to how the retina receives and processes light. This links to Geothe ‘s theory ‘Theory of Colors’ which explains that when the edge of light and dark meet together, the color appear as lightness and darkness are two central properties in the creation of color.

Bridget Riley is an artist who began her black and white paintings during early 60s and her Op Art paintings has been influential to many people. On below is one of her famous work, ‘Blaze’ in 1964.


‘Blaze’ (1964)  Artist: Bridget Riley

On above is one of the famous painting of Optical Art during 1960s. As you can see on the picture above, it creates an illusion of moving patterns. The zigzag black and white lines on the painting create the perception of a circular decent. When you look at the painting for a longer time, you can see the pattern started to shift backwards and forwards. The way how the line pattern interlocked each other creates depth as it creates curves around the center of the painting.

Riley has commented on this painting and she said “My work has developed on the basis of empirical analyses and syntheses, and I have always believed that perception is the medium through which states of being are directly experienced.”

Op art has influenced a lot in modern society during the 1960s. But you can see how Op Art develop from other art forms as before Op Art appear, patterns such as Geometric abstraction, Tessellations, Anamorphosis has got the features of Op art. The way how some Op art patterns has features contorted and distorted images which links to anamorphosis and the way how anamorphosis are only recognizable from a special angle which applies to Op Art as well. Tessellations refer to symmetrical patterns where the patterns have no overlaps and gaps in between. Tessellations features more than one geometric shapes on a pattern.

I also find out that Psychedelic Art also share the same features that they both change the perspective of the object. Psychedelic Art was heavily influenced by the  drug induced hallucinations which links to the psychedelic subculture. Psychedelic art often features kaleidoscope patterns and it also uses contrasting colors and feature detailed images and often morph together which I think links to the Op Art as it creates the psychedelic effect and the way how Op Art sometimes also features distorted patterns. Psychedelic Art also make huge influences during the 1960s.



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