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Artist in Focus : Victor Vasarely

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Victor Vasarely.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Born in Pécs, Hungary, in 1906 Victor Vasarely spent his childhood in Slovakia. There is little known about this intense artist save that he travelled a lot with his parents through out Europe, and that he displayed a fondness for science and mathematics.

When he was 19, Vasarely and his family had moved to Budapest where he began to pursue the study of medicine at Eötvös Loránd University. By the time he was 21, his true calling drew him out and he left medicine for painting. But the influence of science was a strong one throughout his life. It was in the way that he saw things, decoded and understood them. He made a deep connection between science and life, hence science and art.

It was in 1929, when he enrolled at Sándor Bortnyik private academy. Bortnyik was a Bauhaus artist and the two years that Vasarely spent at the artist workshop – were to be crucial for his development. The following decade was one of uncertainty for the young artist who had gotten married and became a young father, with the impending war at hand – Vasarely and his wife (a fellow art student) managed to get by supported by commercial art.

A Painter is no more an inspired, empirical individual, but an educated researcher, resembling a scientist. He is aware of both physical and psychological needs, as well as the rights of humanity.

– Victor Vasarely


Vasarely survived the war and most importantly so did his art. His work was well liked and generated sufficient income and he continued to create artworks for himself and studied science for his own reading pleasure.

Vasarely and Op-Art

A lot of Vasarely’s artistic impetus comes from his passion for physics, astrophysics and the art of symmetry. This would explain his preoccupation with meticulously crafting his compositions. For his art was a process. The post war period saw the maturing of his work between 1947-51, and a definitive shift in artistic style. He was able to imbibe space and depth in his illusionary creation.

During this period he collaborated with Denise René, an art dealer, in the creation of The Galerie Denise René. It would go on to become a important centre for the movement and he exhibited several times.

Vasarely further strengthened his position as a pioneer as he produced the Manifeste Jaune (Yellow Manifesto) of 1955, which expressed his view – “pure form and pure colour can signify the world”. It was the bedrock for the future movement.

Legacy

Vasarely’s contribution to the world of art is notable. His Alphabet Plastique was to be the basis for a series of endlessly interchangeable creations. It was this alphabet that was used in the creation of Planetary Folklore, one of his most influential works. He was instrumental in opening Foundations to support his art, he even opened his childhood home as a museum.

Vasarely had moved permanently to Annet-sur-Marne, in France, assuming citizenship and he remained their till his death in 1997.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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