‘For me, Kineticism is what moves through the soul of the spectator when the eye is forced to organise an unstable perceptive field’ – V. Vasarely
Executed in 1966, Victor Vasarely’s Boglar-I – closely related to V-Boglar, a work from the same series that is held in the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris – is a hypnotic example of the artist’s pioneering Op Art permutations of shape and hue. The work is a 2.5m x 2.5m square composed of a 25 x 25 grid of 10cm squares, each of which contains a circle. From this rigid composition, Vasarely conjures a coruscating expanse of tropical brilliance: each square-circle unit has one element of blue and one of green, whose pair of tones – ranging from near-indistinct darkness to luminous counterpoint – is precisely manipulated in chorus to create what seems to be a crystalline, radial glow emanating from the composition’s centre. Through these subtle interplays of tone and contrast, Vasarely achieves what he called la plastique cinétique – a kinetic union of form and colour that acts on the retina itself to produce the astonishing, disorienting illusion of movement.
Having begun his academic career in medicine, the Hungarian-French Vasarely abandoned his studies in 1927 to learn traditional academic painting; he subsequently trained as a graphic designer at the Muhely (literally ‘Workshop’), a private art school that was Budapest’s centre of Bauhaus studies. He settled in Paris in 1930, where he found some success in graphic design and poster art, before abandoning these in 1939 for a total focus on painting. Over the following years he worked in a figurative mode that was dominated by the play of contrasts, until in 1947 he hit upon the abstract geometric style that would define his life’s work: he would later refer to his figurative period as one of ‘false roads’ that led to his eventual abstract orientation. In his optical illusions, Vasarely proposed a universal and accessible art of virtual movement. Through the ‘visual kinetics’ of works like Boglar-I, the work is completed by the perception of the viewer, and flat surfaces are transformed into scintillating zones that seem to swell, shift and shimmer with perpetual life.
In 1965, the year before Boglar-I was painted, William Seitz curated the seminal exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, drawing together artists whose work challenged the nature of vision and perception. Vasarely was included in this pivotal show alongside Bridget Riley, who would later rise to fame alongside him; his work and ideas, however, far predate the later vanguard of Op Artists, and in many ways Vasarely can be considered the father of Optical Art. Through his near-scientific approach to colour, form and the mysteries of visual perception, Vasarely had discovered a vastly important new mode of artistic creation, manifesting optical magic in jewel-like apparitions of bright, mesmerising beauty. In the flickering, lambent presence of works like Boglar-I, Vasarely recognised a glimpse of the eternal. ‘I cannot stop myself from perceiving an uncanny analogy between my “kinetic plasticity” and the combination of the micro and macro cosmos,’ he wrote. ‘Everything is there: Space, Persistence, Corpuscles and Waves, Relations and Fields. My art transfers Nature once again, this time that of pure physics, in such a way as to enable a physical understanding of the world’ (V. Vasarely, Plasticien, Paris 1979, p. 185).