Vasarely was born in Hungary in 1906, and originally intended to make a career in medicine. He was incredibly gifted and fascinated with scientific theories, and put aside his studies at the University of Budapest's School of Medicine in order to explore the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics on his own. Along the way, he determined that art could provide a way to visualize scientific models. In 1929, he enrolled in the Muhely Academy in Budapest to study fine and applied arts, and began his exploration in the intersection of art and science. He learned about geometric abstraction, and developed a wealth of technical and scientific experience before moving to Paris in 1930 to pursue work in graphic art.
In his early works, from 1932-1945, Vasarely drew and painted figures from nature and observations, though many of these early pieces already included the bold lines and structures that would become his trademark in op-art.
Etude Lineare, 1935
From 1949-1952, Vasarely created his first abstract works, inspired by tile cracks from the Denfert-Rochreau metro station in Paris, and breaking glass. Here he seemed to develop further his style of structured, distinct shapes and sharp color contrast. His series Zebras combines his figure drawing with abstract concepts in black and white.
Lux Novae, 1962
Then he began adding color into his works, and two of his most famous series were created: Folklore Planetaire and Alphabet Plastique. Alphabet Plastique introduced a "programming language" which defined a basis and algorithms for creating structures, and some view this as Vasarely's greatest contribution to 20th century art history. The Alphabet Plastique was a systemic approach to painting, where there are 15 root forms derived from basic shapes such as the circle and square, with 40 variations of the root forms, 6 color scales, and 20 hues. He called the sketches for these works "programs", and they were essentially blueprints that expressed his ideas in the terms of the Alphabet Plastique. His art from the 60s to 70s had a huge impact on architecture, computer science, and fashion, and he designed the spiral logo of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
Vega Multi, 1976
The Art Book. Phaidon Press. 2012. Designed by Alan Fletcher. Print.
Vasarely. Morgan, Robert C. Naples Museum of Art; New York: George Braziller. 2004. Print.
Vasarely. Diehl, Gaston. Crown Publishers, New York 1972. Print.