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It’s Just an Illusion

Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception, Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park, Warwickshire opens on July 8.

Corona – Peter Sedgley, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

Never mind pop art, this summer sees the opening of the UK’s first major exhibition of ‘Op Art’ at Warwickshire’s Compton Verney.

Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception joins the dots between Georges Seurat’s pointillism paintings and the psychedelic genius of Bridget Riley. It was Seurat who first developed pointillism –  the  technique of using tiny dots of various pure colours, which become blended in the viewer’s eye.

“This exhibition has been on my mind for a number of years as I recognised that a multi artist show of ‘Op Art’ hadn’t really been done in the UK.  It is very timely, as since developing the show over the last two years Op Art has been more reconsidered by curators, with key shows in New York and Copenhagen in 2016,” says Compton Verney’s Penelope Sexton, who is curating the show along with Dr Frances Follin

Achaean – Bridget Riley, 1981 © Tate, London 2015

The exhibition will include 90 works ranging from painting, sculpture, light-based, prints and drawings from public and private collections across the UK, plus exciting new commissions created especially for the exhibition. In the 19th century artists developed an interest in how the eye responds to visual stimuli, so as to produce optical illusions. Artists from the Impressionists onwards were inspired by the colour theories of scientific thinkers such as Michel Eugène Chevreul. During the 20th century, artists as diverse as M.C. Escher and Josef Albers looked at using form, and often colour, to convey the sensation of movement, or find a static equivalent for this.

This interest and perception of movement intensified through the 1950s and ’60s, in what came to be known as ‘Op art’ and ‘Kinetic art’. Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, Julio Le Parc, Jeffrey Steele, Jesus Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Peter Sedgley and Liliane Lijn were its leading lights and are all represented in this Compton Verney show. Key loans include Georges Seurat‘s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1885, Scottish National Gallery) where flickering brushstrokes in response to the landscape of alfalfa and poppies are placed with an almost mathematical precision, showing the artist considering the ideas of perception.

La Luzerne, Saint-Denis – Georges Seurat, 1884/5 © Scottish National Gallery

Bridget Riley’s early interest in Seurat convinced her of the importance of finding a distinctive methodology for her own painting, and there will be 22  works by her in the exhibition, including highlights such as Fall (1963, Tate), Blaze IV (1963, Government Art Collection) and Achaen (1981, Tate).

After abandoning his career as an architect, Peter Segley was a member of the emerging Op art movement of the 1960s. He was fascinated by optical sensations produced by intricate geometric patterns and pulsating colour contrasts. The 1965 Peter Segley work Cycle (Birmingham Museums Trust) plays with the notion that the human eye is designed to focus on a particular object in one’s field of vision. Cycle subverts this natural tendency – the work is apparently ‘out of focus’ so the eye struggles to find a point of purchase, creating a disorientating effect on the viewer.

Seurat to Riley will also feature new work by German abstract artist Lothar Götz. Götz is creating a new site specific wall-based work referencing and engaging with ideas about architecture and space.

Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception opens on July 8 and is open until Oct 1.

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