Op Art Paintings: 'Metaphenomena

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  • Leonardo

    Op Art Paintings: 'Metaphenomena'Author(s): MilcovitchSource: Leonardo, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Summer, 1971), pp. 267-268Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1572303 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 19:24

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  • Leonardo, Vol. 4, pp. 267-268. Pergamon Press 1971. Printed in Great Britain



    'Even in the science of nature the subject of research is no longer nature itself but man's questions concerning nature. The mathematical formulas do not represent nature but the knowledge we have of it.'

    W. Heisenberg [1]

    Vasarely recently published some of his ideas on new possibilities of physical dimensions in the plastic arts [2]. He was certain 'that a suitable metaphysical framework would eventually be found for these new ideas'. These words in large measure have determined my present outlook. I shall try to suggest a more or less objective explanation of it without contradicting the results of studies by psychologists of perception. I believe an artist's experience can be used as a reference point for meaning as regards 'interior' vision. Since classical thoughts on 'interior' vision have been essentially subjective confessions, I shall try to use another approach.

    Two-dimensional works of art might be related to a scientific interpretation of reality, since in science it has been found that diagrams are useful for describing phenomena. Two-dimensional diagrams of aspects of reality are powerful tools in science and technology, and, I believe, in art they can provide concentrated aesthetic satisfaction.

    Perhaps I should state what is meant by the terms phenomenon and diagram. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica [3], current science calls a phenomenon the observed fact for which an explanation is sought. In modern philosophy, the word is sometimes used for what is immediately apprehended by the senses before any judgment takes place. A diagram is a figure drawn so that geometrical relations among its parts illustrate relations among objects represented by the figure. The purpose of a diagram is to present vividly to the eye the principal relations on which one desires to fix attention [4]. A diagram is also called a schema.

    The kind of two-dimensional art I am interested in is called Op art, which is designed to produce strong optical effects by means of simultaneous contrast, optical illusionary devices, metallic re- flections, etc. [5]. I am particularly interested in the effects of optical illusions produced by a field of

    * Roumanian artist living at 3bis rue du Petit Beaubourg, 94-St. Maur, France. (Received 28 June 1970). (Original in French).

    Fig. 1. Shapes for Op art paintings, 'Metaphenomena'.

    closely placed lines around a central shape. In addition to the array of lines giving an illusion of vibration, the central shape takes on a kind of new life.

    For my purpose, I have chosen different shapes related to those encountered in different domains of science and of mathematics (cf. Fig. 1). I was also influenced in making the selection by my study of gestalt psychology [6]. Furthermore, it has been found that plane symmetrical shapes give less of an illusion of three dimensions [7]. On a striped back- ground, the shapes can be viewed as interruptions of the array of lines. The interplay of the lines on the shape and of the shape on the lines gives an observer a sense of the passage of time, for the eyes to perceive the two interplays must change their con- centration from one to the other. An illusion of


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  • Milcovitch

    Fig. 2. 'Metaphenomenon, A', silk-screen painting on paper, 125 x 125 cm, 1970.

    vibratory motion is given by the array of lines, the central shape appears to fluctuate in size and a kind of 'psychic' space is perceived that goes beyond the actual dimensions of the image (cf. Figs 2 and 3).

    My Op paintings resemble diagrams one can find in the scientific literature. I am especially fascinated by the phenomenon of optical illusion they produce. To stress the fact that the phenomenon is still not satisfactorily explained by psychology, I

    Fig. 3. 'Metaphenomenon, B', silk-screen painting on paper, 125 x 125 cm, 1970.

    call them 'Metaphenomena' [8-11]. If they are to be appreciated as more than decorations, the per- ceiver must be willing to concentrate upon them for extended periods of time.

    My motivation for working with visual paradoxes arises from the many paradoxical aspects of modern society but I believe that paradoxes should be resolved. Perhaps an artist's presentation of paradoxical symbols will help in that direction.


    1. W. Heisenberg, La nature dans la physique contemporaine (Paris: Gallimard, 1962). 2. V. Vasarely, Plasti-cite (Paris: Casterman, 1970). 3. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 17 (Chicago: Enc. Brittannica, 1962) p. 702. 4. ibid. 7, p. 308. 5. Terminology, Leonardo 1, 199 (1968). 6. P. Guillaume, La psychologie de laforme (Paris: Flammarion, 1937). 7. P. Fraisse et J. Piaget, Traite de psychologie experimentale, Vol. IV, La perception (Paris:

    Presses Universitaires de France, 1963). 8. D. Gerst, Environnement: Rencontre ou integration, Roumanie Litteraire, Sept. 1970. 9. D. Gerst, Introduction, Catalogue d'exposition (Colombes, France: Maison de la Culture,

    Oct. 1970). 10. Catalogue No. 7 (Paris: Editions Empreinte, 1970). 11. A. Geneau, Actualites, Opus International 21 (1970).


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    Article Contentsp. 267p. 268

    Issue Table of ContentsLeonardo, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Summer, 1971), pp. 205-308Front MatterArticles by ArtistsSculpture with Intaglio or Negative Forms [pp. 205 - 210]Acrylics, Oils and Encaustic: Experiences and Opinions of an Artist-Chemical Engineer [pp. 211 - 219]Wall, Space and Sculpture: A Memoir [pp. 221 - 226]

    Aesthetic Tree Patterns in Graph Theory [pp. 227 - 231]Exploring Stereo Images: A Changing Awareness of Space in the Fine Arts [pp. 233 - 238]On Architecture, the Plastic Arts and the Cultural Evolution of Man [pp. 239 - 244]NO-Art: An American Psycho-Social Phenomenon [pp. 245 - 254]NotesOn the Making of a Sculpture [pp. 255 - 256]Chromatic versus Polychrome Sculpture [pp. 257 - 258]On Literality in My Drawings [pp. 259 - 261]Comments on Visual Fine Art Produced by Digital Computers [pp. 263 - 265]Op Art Paintings: 'Metaphenomena' [pp. 267 - 268]'Architectonic Psalm': A Sculpture for a Church [pp. 269 - 270]Paintings on Cotton or Linen Absorbent Canvas [pp. 271 - 272]

    DocumentsThe Mathematics of Map Coloring [pp. 273 - 277]Sculpture: Transformables with Permanent Magnets [pp. 279 - 282]Sculptures of Unusual Perceptions [pp. 283 - 286]

    Terminology [pp. 287 - 288]Booksuntitled [pp. 289 - 291]untitled [pp. 291 - 292]untitled [pp. 292 - 293]untitled [pp. 293 - 294]untitled [p. 294]untitled [pp. 294 - 295]untitled [pp. 295 - 296]untitled [p. 296]untitled [p. 297]untitled [pp. 297 - 298]untitled [p. 298]untitled [p. 299]untitled [p. 299]untitled [p. 299]Books Received [pp. 299 - 300]

    International Opportunities for Artists [pp. 301 - 304]Calendar of Events: 1971-72 [pp. 305 - 306]LettersAesthetics and the Artist Today (Continued) [pp. 307 - 308]On Information Available in Pictures (Continued) [p. 308]The 'End of Style' Manifesto (Continued) [p. 308]Corrections Received [p. 308]

    Back Matter