Friday, November 15, 2013

The art of perception

 The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 14, 2013

Artists have played with tricks of visual perception forever. The ancient Greeks used optical illusions in their temples. Michelangelo used it in his sculpture of David tapering the figure so that it got larger toward the top in order to look normal when viewed from below. Perhaps the most famous pioneer of modern op art was M.C. Escher — he of the stairways that go nowhere.
Spencer Moseley, Kiss, 1964. Polymer on canvas, 48 x 48 inches. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of the artist.
Op art became a popular movement in the 1960s and early ‘70s with artists such as Bridget Riley, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Victor Vasarely with their brilliantly patterned paintings that seemed to shimmer and pulsate, and reverse positive and negative, in and out.

Tacoma Art Museum is now celebrating that movement with a collection of works from its permanent collection including works by Riley, Anuszkiewicz, Vasarely and others. They stretch the definition of optical art to include photo-realist paintings because paintings that look like photographs are a kind of optical illusion. Michael Fajans’ “Net (Public People),” for example, is an astonishing realist painting of a group of people. It is large at 48 by 70 inches and does indeed look like a photograph. It is a striking painting with sharp edges to the figures that make them look like they’ve been cut out an collaged in, but the only bit of optical illusion is a printed logo on a piece of clothing that casts a shadow and looks like it is suspended in air.

Also not fitting in the theme is a wonderful soft-focus portrait of a boy by George Luks, a member of the famed ash can school (early 20th century American art). It’s a great painting but hardly op art and looks like it actually belongs in the portrait show Sitting for History in an adjacent gallery.

Much more typical of op art paintings are Spencer Moseley’s “Kiss” and Francis Delentano’s “Alternating Phalanx.” And Jeffrey Simmons’ “Flux,” multicolored stripes painted on epoxy resin which hover an eighth of an inch above the surface. And Nora Sato’’s untitled painting that bends around a corner of the gallery in a clever way, and John Buck’s “Dragon House,” which has drawing on sculpture in front of a painting on canvas with similar marks so that the sculpture seems to be a part of the painting even though it stands a few feet in front of it.

One of my favorite pieces is Margie Livingston’s “Zip #1.” Livingston, a Seattle painter, pours paint on flat surfaces and then peels the paint off and hangs is like skin on the wall. This piece is quite beautiful and needs to be studied carefully and up close. 

 [Tacoma Art Museum, Optic Nerve, Wednesdays–Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 5–8 p.m. through April 20, 2014, adult $10, student/military/senior (65+) $8, family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18), 5 and younger free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm., 253.272.4258,]

Photo: Spencer Moseley, Kiss, 1964. Polymer on canvas, 48 x 48 inches. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of the artist.

No comments: