Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Victor Vasarely (by Maya Patel)

Biographical Information

Victor Vasarely was a prominent 20th century artist known for his contributions to Optical-kinetic Art. He was born in Pecs, Hungary in 1908 and even as a child, he was said to have remarkable talent in creating art so realistic that it could have replaced a photograph. He worked under Alexander Bortnyik at the Muhely Art school in Budapest, a school for the graphic arts. It was there that Vasarely learned the constructivist method which greatly influenced his art from there forward. In 1930, Vasarely moved to Paris and worked as a graphic artist for various advertising agencies before opening his own ad agency. After working in advertising for several years, he then shifted to creating and exhibiting his art.

Techniques and Style

Vasarely experimented in various art forms, including Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, and Impressionism. He was involved with the founding of an art gallery in Paris called the Denise Rene Gallery, and that is where he first began showcasing his art. Here he displayed his artwork at the time that had optical illusions, sharp lines, and were based on 2D space. This early collection of his art is called the “Belle-Isle” period. This style was inspired by pebbles on the beach, rippled sand, waves, and the horizon. Pebble shapes are prominent in his painting, Tampico (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Tampico, 1953. Oil on canvas.

The next phases of Vasarely's art were called  the “Denfert,” the “Gordes” and the “Cristal” periods. The Denfert period was inspired by the patterns on tiled walls within the subway station at Denfert-Rochereau. They had a geometric and maze-like nature, as can be seen in his work. The “Gordes” period shows a strong connection to geometry and motifs. Much of Vasarely’s work was based in physics, chemistry, waveforms, and motion, and many graphic forms were meant to create a ‘kinetic visual’ via a plastic unity system. By 1959, he had developed the plastic unity system to the point where he was able to combine together single elements to create even more elements. For example, using only black and white rectangles to visually construct ovals, triangles, and rhombi. This style can be seen in his work Pleionne P (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Pléionne P, 1959. Painting on panel

In March 1959, he patented a plastic unity design that used color to intensify the illusion. After this point, he began including considerably more color into his works. He formed an “Alphabet Plastique” to refine a method for combine colors and shades with various forms to create any figure, resulting in an infinite number of combinations. His more colorful illusionary art style is shown via his very famous painting, Calota MC (Figure 3). 

Figure 3. Calota MC, 1967. Tempera on canvas.

I was attracted to Vasarely’s art because of the bright colors, incredible precision, and scientific and mathematical nature of his works. By taking simple forms and geometries, and arranging and combining them in innovative ways, Vasarely was able to create movement, depth, and meaning in his art. His work stood out to me as truly innovative and modern. 


Diehl, Gaston. Vasarely. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, 1972. 

Spies, Werner. Vasarely. Harry N. Abrahms, Inc. New York, 1969.

Vasarely: Hommage = Tribute. Silvana, 2013.

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