Visual Perception and Op Art
The seminal 1965 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, The Responsive Eye, provided many viewers with their first exposure to what would become to be called ‘Op Art.’ The scale of the show brought to the fore an international gathering of artists who, individually and collectively, were exploring new theories of visual perception. Perhaps ‘new’ is not quite the word as many of these concepts were born in the 19th century by a diverse group of theorists ranging from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Michel Eugene Chevreul and Charles Hayter. The Bauhaus takes credit for elaborating and advancing color theory through the work and teachings of Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten and Josef Albers.
In the post-war era a new generation of artists emerged who, eschewing the gestural heroics of the Abstract Expressionists, began making work that challenged the eye through chromatic vibration, line interference and successive color contrasts.
Richard Anuszkiewicz Yellow Blue and Green Star - A.P. 3/3 1991 Sculpture - Hand painted enamel on stainless steel, A.P. 3/3, 32" x 30" Copyright © Richard Anuszkiewicz. VAGA, NY www.vagarights.com
The David Richard Gallery brings five of these artists together – Richard Anuskiewicz, Ed Mieczkowski, Francis Hewitt, Francis Celentano and Rakuko Naito. The first four were among the participants in The Responsive Eye.
Anuszkiewicz was a student at Yale under the renown Bauhaus instructor Josef Albers. In many ways he is heir to Albers’ lifelong series “Homage to the Square”, a body of work that investigated color associations within a rigorous composition. Life magazine called Anuszkiewicz ‘one of the new wizards of Op,’ although he was never formally associated with the movement. New York Times art critic Holland Carter wrote that ‘The drama is in the subtle chemistry of complementary colors, which makes the geometry glow as if light were leaking out from behind it.’
Ed Mieczkowski Extrend 1964 Acrylic on board, 40" x 36" x 1.5" Copyright © Ed Mieczkowski
Ed Mieczkowski and Francis Hewitt (along with Ernst Benkert) were the founders of the Anonima Group in 1960, a collective that explored the scientific phenomena of optics. Working collaboratively on grid-based, spatially fluctuating paintings, they were often associated with the Op Art painters, a commercial label that they rejected. Mieczkowski preferred the term ‘perceptual abstraction’, where the hand of the artist was less important than the perceptions received by the viewer.
Francis Hewitt Op Ended 1964 Acrylic on canvas on masonite, 24" x 24" Copyright © Francis Hewitt Estate
Along with an MFA, Hewitt also pursued a PhD in aesthetics and the psychology of perception at Case Western Reserve. A teacher throughout his long career as a practicing artist, Hewitt presented a major lecture at the opening of The Responsive Eye
at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Francis Celentano Le Cirque 9 2004 Acrylic on canvas, 26" x 36" Copyright © Francis Celentano
As a participant in The Responsive Eye Francis Celetano encountered the black and white Op Art paintings of Bridget Riley, which prompted a move away from static hard-edge abstraction. As he wrote later, ‘For me, so-called Op Art – or better Perceptual Art – functions as a metaphor for the distortions of perception, experience and reason generously provided by nature and culture.’
Rakuko Naito RN1468-64 1964 Acrylic and metallic acrylic on linen, 68" x 68" Copyright © Rakuko Naito
Rakuko Naito, although she was living in New York at the time and having her first solo exhibition at World House Gallery, was not included in The Responsive Eye. However it is clear that her work at the time demonstrates her absorption of the tenets of visual perception theories.