- Linear and Aerial Perspective
- The Picture Plane and The Ground Plane
- The Horizon and The Eye Level
- One Point Perspective
- Two Point Perspective
- Three Point Perspective
- The Perspective of a Circle
- The Perspective of a Cylinder
- Using a Central Eye Level
- Using a High Eye Level
- Using a Low Eye Level
- Perspective Drawing – Geometry in Art
Linear and Aerial Perspective
Source: Mainly based on material from Free Art Lessons from ArtyFactory
The Techniques of Linear and Aerial Perspective
Perspective Drawing is a technique used to represent three-dimensional images on a two-dimensional picture plane. In our series of lessons on perspective drawing we explain the various methods of constructing an image with perspective and show how these are used by artists and illustrators.
“Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship……………..There are three aspects to perspective. The first has to do with how the size of objects seems to diminish according to distance: the second, the manner in which colors change the farther away they are from the eye; the third defines how objects ought to be finished less carefully the farther away they are.” (Leonardo da Vinci)
Perspective was developed in the 15th century by the architects, Leon Baptista Alberti (1404-72) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). For 500 years, perspective drawing remained one of the basic principles of Western art until it was challenged by the ideas of the Cubists at the start of the 20th century. Whether you are working with conventional materials such as pencils and paints, or contemporary digital media, a knowledge and understanding of perspective drawing remains an essential tool to help you enhance your drawing technique.
There are two main elements in perspective drawing:
- Linear Perspective which deals with the organisation of shapes in space.
- Aerial Perspective which deals with the atmospheric effects on tones and colours.
You can see how both of these elements work in our illustration above of some ancient ruins. The black and white image displays an example of Linear Perspective. It shows some of the lines of construction used to arrange the blocks and columns to create an illusion of depth and distance.
The images should reveal a coloured and textured rendering of the scene. This displays the atmospheric effects of Aerial Perspective. You can see how the tones weaken and the colours pale as they recede from your view. Both linear and aerial perspectives combine to create this convincing illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional plane.
The Picture Plane and The Ground Plane
Perspective of the Picture and Ground Plane
The Picture Plane is the flat two-dimensional surface on which we draw or project an image in perspective. In the illustration above, it is a simple task to draw the two rectangles if they are parallel to the picture plane. The Ground Plane is at 90 degrees to the picture plane. In our illustration, the ground plane is the grey surface on which the shapes appear to be standing. It is emphasized by the shadows which are cast upon it. It starts at the bottom of the picture plane and stretches back to the horizon. The difficulty in drawing our two rectangles arises when you need to illustrate them at an angle to the picture plane. This is where the rules of perspective drawing come into play. They are now seen at an angle of 90 degrees to the picture plane as they recede along the ground plane. This creates an illusion of depth. Their shapes are no longer identical and have changed according to the rules of perspective.
Our following pages outline some of the important principles of perspective drawing.
The Horizon and The Eye Level
Composing a scene around the Horizon/Eye Level
The horizon / eye level is the axis around which a perspective drawing is constructed. When we are outdoors we use the horizon as a point of reference to judge the scale and distance of objects in relation to us. In perspective drawing, the horizon also happens to be the viewer’s eye-level. In art, we tend to use the term ‘eye level’, rather than ‘horizon’ as in many pictures, the horizon is frequently hidden by walls, buildings, trees, hills etc. To create the perspective drawing above we have added some tourists to our linear and aerial perspective scene. Note how all four figures share the same eye level – i.e. the horizon of the picture. This suggests that they are all the same height and are standing on the same plane. Because the horizon happens to be our eye level, it also suggests that the figures are the same height as any viewer of the picture. As a result, the organisation of scale and distance in the drawing makes good visual sense. Although the figures are still the same size, their eye levels no longer have any relationship to the eye level of the picture. As a result, the scale of the figures is totally confused. This demonstrates the importance of the horizon / eye level to the organisation of scale and distance in a perspective drawing. It also illustrates the meaning of Leonardo’s famous quote that, ‘Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship’.
One Point Perspective
The Perspective Drawing of a Rectangle
In our one point perspective drawing above, you can see the lines of construction used to draw the two rectangles from our illustration of the picture plane.
There are two types of construction lines used in this perspective drawing:
- ORTHOGONAL LINES which we have drawn in RED.
- TRANSVERSAL LINES which we have drawn in GREEN.
We will continue to use this colour coding in subsequent illustrations.
- Orthogonal lines are parallel to the ground plane and move back from the picture plane.
- Orthogonal lines set the varying heights or widths of a rectangular plane as it recedes from view.
- Orthogonal lines always appear to meet at a vanishing point on the eye level.
- Transversal lines are always at right angles to the orthogonal lines.
- Transversal lines are parallel to the picture plane and to one another.
- Transversal lines establish a fixed height or width between two orthogonal lines.
- Transversal lines form the nearest and furthest edges of a rectangle as it recedes from view.
VANISHING POINTS, which we have drawn in BLUE, are dots on the eye-level where parallel lines seem to converge and disappear. Both illustrations on this page use a single vanishing point and demonstrate the simplest form of perspective drawing: One Point Perspective.
The Perspective Drawing of a Box
ONE POINT PERSPECTIVE is so named because it uses a single vanishing point to draw an object. It is the simplest form of perspective drawing and is used here to draw a box. In one point perspective, the front and back transversal planes of the box always remain parallel to the picture plane. Only their scale changes as they recede into the distance. Note that it is only the receding orthogonal lines which change their angles. Notice that the front and back planes of our box have been left unfilled to make its construction more visible.
Two Point Perspective
The Technique of Two-Point Perspective
TWO POINT PERSPECTIVE is used in this illustration to draw a box which has now been rotated at an angle to the picture plane. Two point perspective uses two sets of orthogonal lines and two vanishing points to draw each object. There are no longer any planes parallel to the picture plane. However the vertical transversal lines are still drawn parallel to one another and at right angles to the ground plane. It is at this stage that perspective drawing starts to become more awkward because the second vanishing point is often situated well outside the frame of the picture. If both vanishing points are situated within the picture frame, the angles of objects appear to be extremely foreshortened. In the completed illustration the front and back planes of our box have been left unfilled to make the construction more visible.
Three Point Perspective
Three Point Perspective from a Low Eye Level
Three Point Perspective is the most complex form of perspective drawing. Three point perspective uses three sets of orthogonal lines and three vanishing points to draw each object. This technique is most commonly used when drawing buildings viewed from a low or high eye-level. The low eye level in our illustration above creates the illusion that its box shape is towering above us. It naturally gives it the scale of a tall building. In one and two point perspective, the picture plane is fixed at right angles to the ground plane. In three point perspective, the picture plane seems to be set at an angle as the viewer tends to tilt their head back or forward to look up or down from the eye level. As a consequence, the vertical transversal lines, which were parallel in one and two point perspective, now appear to recede. They form a third set of orthogonal lines, which rise from the ground plane and eventually meet at vanishing point 3, high above the picture plane.
Three Point Perspective from a High Eye Level
Three point perspective is also used when drawing an object from a high eye level as in our illustration above. It creates the illusion of looking down from a high viewpoint. This drawing process is simply a reversal of the method used for drawing a box from a low eye level.
The Perspective of a Circle
A circle in perspective is called an ellipse. The drawing of ellipses is controlled by rectangular perspective.
Our drawing above of an ellipse illustrates this technique. There are two distinct stages in its creation:
- fig.1. The circle is first visualized in plan form on a flat square grid . Each section of the grid contains one quarter of the circle.
- fig.2. The square grid is distorted according to the laws of perspective. The circle is then redrawn onto the distorted grid to create an ellipse.
The diagonals of the grid have been drawn on both illustrations to help with the plotting of the circle and ellipse.
The Perspective of a Cylinder
Before you study the perspective of a cylinder, it helps if you understand the perspective of a circle which is explained on the previous page.
A cylinder is simply a circle which is projected into three dimensions.
- fig. 1. This is an illustration of a cylinder which is formed by a circle being projected vertically from the ground plane.
The ellipses that outline the cylinder are all the same width. However, the roundness of their curves gradually increases as they rise above or drop below eye level.
Note how the ellipse at the eye level is seen as a straight line.
- fig .2. This is an illustration of a cylinder which is formed by a circle being projected horizontally from the picture plane.
The circular curves that form the cylinder are all the same shape, but their scale reduces as they recede from the picture plane towards the vanishing point.
Both of our examples use one point perspective, the simplest form of perspective drawing.
Using a Central Eye Level
Perspective Drawing from a Central Eye Level
Wherever you choose to place the eye level/horizon in a picture will have a crucial effect on its composition. If you can see or if you know the position of the horizon in a picture, the image automatically becomes an extension of your own personal space. As the horizon is also your eye level, you can understand the scale and space of the image in relation to your own body. Any part of the image which is in line with the eye level feels as if it is close to your own personal height. This effect works whether objects are small or large, near or far, or whether the viewer is standing, sitting or lying down. A central eye level, as illustrated above, is useful where you wish to create an equal balance between the sky and foreground in a landscape. It can also be used to give the impression that you are viewing a scene from the same level as the characters in the picture or from a close seated position.
Famous Artworks with a Central Eye Level
JAN VERMEER (1632-1675)
‘The Kitchen Maid’, 1658 (oil on canvas)
The orthogonal window frames in this painting meet on the eye level which is just above the kitchen maid’s hand. This suggests that the scene is observed from a seated position which enhances the quiet and pensive atmosphere of the work.
JOHN CONSTABLE (1776-1837)
‘Flatford Mill’, 1817 (oil on canvas)
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-90)
‘The Cafe Terrace at Night’, 1888 (oil on canvas)
The diagonals of this painting loosely form the lines of perspective which meet on the eye level at the centre of the picture. It is a simple composition that divides the image diagonally into star-lit and lamp-lit sections. This is a bold example of one-point perspective.
GUSTAVE CAILLEBOTTE (1848 -1894)
‘Paris Street, A Rainy Day’, 1877 (oil on canvas)
In this scene, the viewer shares the same eye level as the strolling figures. This creates the strong illusion that you are walking or standing on the same street. The common eye level forms a spatial link between you and the other figures and psychologically you feel that you are part of the scene. The picture frame becomes your field of vision and you almost get the sense that you need to step aside to avoid brushing shoulders with the approaching gentleman. This intimate relationship between the viewer and the image is what makes the work so popular. It is like taking a look through a window in time.
The painting is very carefully arranged. The strong eye level divides the picture horizontally, while the lamp-post and its reflection bisect it vertically. These lines intersect at the central vanishing point, creating four rectangles, each of which contributes a separate element to the composition of the painting:
- The lower right rectangle with the boldest shapes and strongest contrasts, establishes the foreground.
- The lower left rectangle with its triangular arrangement of figures that echo the shape of the building above, stakes out the middle ground.
- The upper right rectangle links the foreground and background as the buildings recede in sequence from behind the umbrellas.
- The upper left rectangle provides the main background interest with both sides of an apartment block viewed in dramatic perspective.
It is hard to avoid the idea that the shapes which fill the upper rectangles are subconsciously influenced by Caillebotte’s training as a naval architect. The apartment block on the left is like the bow of a massive ship steaming towards the viewer. If you continue the analogy, the umbrellas on the right suggest the wind-filled forms of sails bobbing about on the sea of wet cobblestones. Yachting, after all, was one of the main pastimes to which Caillebotte returned when he gave up painting in later life.
In common with the Impressionists, Caillebotte captured the everyday scenes of urban Paris, usually from a middle class viewpoint. In Paris Street, A Rainy Day, painted in 1887, he portrays the new look of the city at the end of the 19th century.
Baron Georges Haussmann was given the job of modernizing the old Paris of narrow streets and alleys. He replaced these with the network of wide boulevards that characterise Paris to this day. In this painting, the grid-like arrangement of the space and the radial frames of the umbrellas evoke the arterial structure of this new road system.
Using a High Eye Level
Perspective Drawing from a High Eye Level
You have a restricted view of objects that are close as you are essentially looking down upon them. This is not such a suitable viewpoint for our illustration of ancient ruins, as the foreground objects move outside the picture plane and large areas of the background are empty. The eye is naturally pulled towards the horizon as it forms a strong line across the picture. This also distracts the viewer from the objects in the foreground. The imbalance in the composition has been corrected with the use of landscape elements in the background. The hills are used to break up the horizon and link the background with the foreground. A high eye level is the ideal arrangement for painting panoramic landscapes. The paintings of the American artist, Grant Wood, perfectly demonstrate this compositional device. It is also ideally suited to epic figure compositions, offering the artist a wide physical space to portray several narrative scenes within the one picture. Pieter Bruegel was arguably the greatest master of this technique.
Famous Artworks with a High Eye Level
GRANT WOOD (1892-1942)
‘Young Corn’, 1931 (oil on canvas)
This work is typical of the landscapes painted by the American artist, Grant Wood. They often use high eye levels to display the gentle patterns, textures and forms of the rolling landscape. His wonderful images have a silent, dream-like clarity and are a product of the artist’s imagination and childhood memories. They are idealized and nostalgic views which look back with a sense of loss, to an age before industrialization. Today, and as time progresses, that sense of loss continues to increase, and consequently amplifies the power of his work.
PIETER BRUEGEL (1525-69)
‘Children’s Games’, 1560 (oil on canvas)
‘Children’s Games’, a narrative figure composition by Bruegel, is a classic example of how to use a high eye level. This painting uses a high eye level to view the scene from above, thereby allowing the artist to arrange the numerous figures into smaller groups which may be viewed separately without much overlapping. The viewer can then clearly identify all the activities in the picture. A high eye level is the ideal compositional device for portraying complex narrative subjects.
At first glance, this painting looks like a catalogue of children’s games. However, the longer you look at it, the more you question what you are seeing. Why has Bruegel chosen to set this scene in the ‘adult arena’ of public buildings like the town hall? Why are there no adults to be seen? Is this a realistic image of children at play or does it suggest another meaning? Is there a clue to the meaning of the work in the range of games being played:
Children have always imitated adult behaviour in their games but today we understand how they reflect their experience of adult life in their play. However, what does this image mean to an adult in 1560, in an age when children had few rights and little psychological understanding?
Is this town center, swarming with restless children, an allegorical scene of chaos and social disorder? Is Bruegel using ‘Children’s Games’ as a metaphor to suggest that there is not much difference between the fantasy and tomfoolery of children’s games and the ignorance and irresponsibility of adult society in his day? Is the painting a warning to adults that they need to take heed of their conduct, if they want their lives to amount to anything more than the frivolous antics of ‘Children’s Games’? Bruegel was well known for his moralistic paintings and engravings of 16th century peasant life. These are often set against dramatic backgrounds which portray the changing landscape across the seasons. However, when you look past his subject matter to examine how Bruegel organizes his pictures, you find a rare visual intelligence that continues to inspire today. Bruegel understands better than any artist in his century, how to compose figures in a landscape.
‘Children’s Games’ is a complex painting with about 250 children involved in over 80 games. Bruegel uses a high eye level to view the scene from above. This allows him to arrange the children into smaller groups which may be viewed separately without any overlap. The viewer can then clearly identify every child in the picture. He also assembles the groups into lanes formed by the receding lines of perspective. This imposes a sense of rhythm and order over a very complex picture and allows the viewer to experience the apparent chaos in a more comfortable way.
Note how he attaches a symbolic importance to the town hall by placing it in the center of the picture. Its facade exactly divides the top of the painting into three sections. To the right of the building is a stark view of the town where the ‘games’ stretch endlessly towards the horizon. In contrast a peaceful area countryside fills the top left of the painting: an essential refuge from the mayhem of the ‘games’.
Using a Low Eye Level
Perspective Drawing from a Low Eye Level
Using a low eye level in perspective drawing creates the space for a large area of sky. This increased area of sky, therefore, becomes a major influence on the scale, tone, color and mood of the picture. A low eye level can be used for dramatic effect in the following ways.
SCALE: By lowering the viewpoint, you emphasize the height and power of objects in the foreground. This has the effect of making the viewer feel small.
TONE and COLOR : As the sky is the main source of light in a landscape, it sets the key for the tone and color of the picture. By varying the contrast or harmony of tones and adjusting the emotional impact of the color, we can create a dramatic or calm atmosphere. For example, bright colors create a fresh and cheerful atmosphere, whereas dark colors convey a sense of doom and gloom. Tone and color are the two visual elements which combine to create the mood of the picture.
Famous Artworks with a Low Eye Level
JOHN CONSTABLE (1776-1837)
‘Stonehenge, Wiltshire’, 1836 (oil on canvas)
Constable uses a low eye level to make space for the dramatic sky whose energetic brushwork injects life into what would otherwise be a silent and still image.
JOSEPH M W TURNER (1775-1851)
‘The Fighting Temeraire’, 1838 (oil on canvas)
As well as creating a spectacularly radiant sky with his setting sun, Turner also uses the low eye level to emphasize the height of the ghostly ship, even although it is still some distance away.
KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)
‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’, 1823-29 (woodblock print)
In this Hokusai woodblock print, from the series ’36 Views of Mount Fuji’, a low eye level is used to emphasize the colossal height and power of the huge wave which seems ready to engulf Mount Fuji itself.
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-90)
‘Starry Night’, 1889 (oil on canvas)
‘Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most dramatic skies in the history of painting. There is direct link between the rhythms of the rolling landscape and the swirling power of the heavens above. The picture uses the vast area of sky, created by the use of a low eye level, to convey the turbulent energy of the universe from which the landscape draws its sustenance.
In ancient Greece the followers of Pythagoras believed in ‘The Music of the Spheres’. They thought that each planet in our solar system emitted a sound as it orbited the sun and that together they harmonized to create a heavenly tone. In Van Gogh’s picture, the ‘music of the spheres’ is not so harmonic. It reaches a ferocious crescendo that resonates through the hills, trees and village. This is a painting that depicts colossal power of nature as it overwhelms the scale of man.
If you live in the city today, light pollution from commercial and domestic lighting makes it is difficult to appreciate the power and beauty of the night sky. On a good night you can only make out a few of the major stars. However in the pitch black night of the countryside, you can literally see countless thousands of sparkling constellations. The awesome wonder of this vision leaves you with a profound sense of humility as you cannot help but appreciate your own smallness. Van Gogh’s imagination confronts the frightening power of this infinite domain and he expresses his amazement in the exaggerated rhythms and colors of his brushstrokes. Although ‘Starry Night’ is not a ‘realistic’ image, there is no more powerful nor honest depiction of the sky at night.
The low eye level divides this painting into two symbolic areas: the heavenly sky and the humble town.
The Heavenly Sky: the large area above the eye level which creates the space that is needed to display the convulsive power of the starlit heavens.
The Humble Town: the small area below the eye level which compresses the town into a humble section at the bottom of the picture.
Van Gogh sees this arrangement as the natural order where man is diminished when confronted by the greater forces of nature and creation. He continues this comparison by echoing the shape of the cypress tree with the church spire. These symbols, one a creation of nature – the other a creation of man, stand out as they are the only vertical elements in the picture. Both symbols point to the heavens: the natural tree is strong, confident and in harmony with the elements; the man-made spire is weak, artificial and straining to reach the stars.
On a technical level he uses the difference in size between the tree and spire to create some illusion of spatial depth, a visual element that is otherwise sacrificed to the strength of texture and pattern in the painting.
Perspective Drawing – Geometry in Art
LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519)
‘The Last Supper’ 1494-98 (tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic)
Perspective Drawing is an application of geometry that artists use to organise the arrangement of space in a picture. For many centuries, artists have been inspired by the visual beauty and order that exists in geometry and they have used it in many ways to help the composition of their art. There is no greater nor more obvious example of this than Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’. View how Leonardo uses the geometry of perspective to make Christ the unmistakable focal point of the painting.
EADFRITH, BISHOP OF LINDISFARNE (died 721)
‘Illuminated Ornamental Cross’, 715-721
The Lindisfarne Gospels were written and illuminated by the monk, Eadfrith, who became the bishop of Lindisfarne in 698. They were created in honour of God and St. Cuthbert, a celtic monk, who was bishop of Lindisfarne (685-86) on Holy Island and died in 687. This cross-carpet page is found at the beginning of St. Matthew’s gospel. The complex interlacing of geometrical forms in this beautiful illuminated manuscript pays homage to God who was seen as the Great Geometrician of the Universe.
PAULO UCCELLO (1396-1475)
‘Perspective Drawing of a Chalice’, c.1450
Perspective, first developed by Brunelleschi around 1420, was a new drawing technique when Uccello produced this image. Today, this chalice is a strangely prophetic drawing because it seems to predict the use of wire frame images to visualize forms in 3D software, five and a half centuries later. Were the original designers of these programs influenced by this image?
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (1475-1564)
‘The Holy Family (doni Tondo)’, 1506 (oil and tempera on panel)
The Doni Tondo was probably painted to commemorate the birth of the first child of Agnolo Doni, the Florentine banker. It depicts the Holy Family with the infant Saint John the Baptist. The nude figures in the background represent pagan mankind before the coming of Christ, and the infant Saint John creates a link, as a symbol of baptism, between this old pagan world and the new Christian world. The frame gives us a clue to the picture’s composition. Five carved heads, with Christ at the top and possibly the four evangelists, form a pentagram. These five heads represent the five wounds of Christ while the round frame, whose circular shape is a symbol of continuity and endlessness, represents God. Mary’s head, the focal point of the picture, is perfectly placed within the apex triangle of the star. The two walls, one on which the nude figures are seated, and the other which separates the old and new worlds, are carefully aligned on key horizontals within the pentagram.
The pentagram is a mystic symbol that has been around since 3500BC. It has been adopted by many different cultures over the centuries. To the Ancient Greeks, it was a sign of perfection because of the satisfying ‘golden section’ proportions contained within its structure. It has been used in an inverted form as a satanic emblem, but here Michelangelo definitely claims it as a Christian symbol.
PIET MONDRIAN (1872-1944)
‘Composition No.10 – Pier and Ocean’, 1915 (oil on canvas)
The development of Mondrian’s art is a methodical journey from realistic landscape and still life painting, through Expressionism and Cubism, to the total abstraction of the Dutch De Styjl movement. ‘Pier and Ocean’ is painted at a stage in the development of Mondrian’s art where his work is approaching pure abstraction, but with a few realistic associations still present. He even gives the painting a double title: ‘Pier and Ocean’ offering a realistic interpretation of the image and ‘Composition No.10’ suggesting one of an abstract series of images. He aimed to, and eventually did, create an international language of pure color and abstract form which became known as Neo-Plasticism. This style, which formed the foundation of the Dutch De Styjl movement was based on the delicate balancing of rectangular forms within a horizontal and vertical grid, and painted from a restricted palette of primary colors with black and white.
‘Pier and Ocean’ was created on the road to this purist style. It is a painting of an abstract grid within an oval field. This is a compositional format that Mondrian borrowed from Cubist still lifes. Like the Cubist images, it balances both realistic and abstract elements. Mondrian believed that vertical lines expressed male elements in his work, while horizontal lines characterized the female side. In this painting, he combines both into an abstract rhythm that suggests the shimmering light of the sea. The ‘Pier’, which is constructed with longer (male) verticals, projects into the ‘Ocean’ whose rhythm expands in a network of (female) horizontals. Both elements contrast more in the lower half of the work but gradually come together and unify at the top of the picture. A sense of space and distance is achieved by the gradual change in the scale and frequency of the lines. This creates the illusion that they are receding towards a horizon.
JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)
‘Le Canigou’, 1921 (oil on canvas)
This image by Juan Gris is an example of ‘synthetic’ Cubism, a later and more decorative development of the Cubist style. Cubism was an attempt by artists at the beginning of the 20th century, to revitalize the tired traditions of Western art which they believed had run their course. They challenged conventional forms of representation, such as perspective, which had been the rule since the Renaissance. Their aim was to develop a new way of seeing which reflected the modern age.
Perspective only works from one fixed viewpoint. The Cubists believed that this was a limited visualization technique that did not reflect the way we see the world. In Cubist painting the artist depicts real objects, but not from a fixed viewpoint. They portray and combine many viewpoints of the subject at one time. The whole idea of space is rearranged – the front, back and sides of an image become interchangeable elements. Cubist images combine the artist’s observation with their memory of the subject which are fused together to create a poetic evocation of the theme. The title of this work is the name of the snow clad mountain that can be viewed through the window.
Still life was the most popular of the Cubist themes. It allowed the use of everyday objects whose forms were still recognizable after their simplification and stylization.
VICTOR VASARELY (1906-1997)
‘Planetary Folklore’, 1964 (oil on canvas)
Victor Vasarely was the major figure of the Op Art movement. He produced many paintings that were based on a visual vocabulary of geometric shapes and colors which he configured in a series of arrangements designed to stimulate a strong optical response in the viewer.
In this silkscreen print, Vasarely creates a dynamic field of shifting relationships between two grids: one is the background – a network of graduating grayscale squares; the other is the foreground – a matrix of colored circles and ellipses. The viewer instinctively scans this formal structure for some sense of order that is initially suggested by the progressive tones in grayscale background. However any perceived system is contradicted by the counterpoint of the colored shapes. This shifting relationship between foreground and background builds up an undulating surface that offers no point of rest for the eye, ultimately forcing the viewer to engage with the overall image – a pulsating wave of visual energy.