Your Space Or Mine
The text books tell us that Op Art is a mid-twentieth century phenomenon largely consisting of geometric abstract imagery dealing with optical illusion. Humans have, of course, been delighted by scintillating pattern for millennia but in the 1960s and 70s artists like Victor Vasarely and Bridgit Riley made works that created the illusion of movement in space.
Perhaps a style of visual art that produces perceptual ambiguity, illusion and contradictions is particularly fitting to the times we’re living through now. If the ground isn’t literally shifting beneath our feet a half-glimpse at the news, wary trips to the shops or any attempt to plan something concrete in coming weeks, perhaps months, induces a debilitating dizziness at the uncertainty of it all.
The Your Space Or Mine Build Hollywood street displays in Sheffield currently feature works by the award winning local artist Rob Lee. He is more than a dab hand at the skills required of the op artist: anamorphic installations, dazzle graphics, plays on perspective, the production of complex, paradoxical space by manipulating parallel lines and waves and the clever deployment of chromatic tension are his forte.
In an extremely ambitious wall painting that’s sited on his studio rooftop Rob demonstrates terrific free hand skill. This work – which the artist describes as in part exploring the psychology of colour – seems to inform the YSOM poster installations appearing at Shoreham Street and Charles Street. An endless wave is suggested by these visual ululations, the dark red/blue and yellow/light blue pairings being different colours but the same tone baffles the eye. It’s a delighting semblance of movement that cheerily ushers passers-by on their way through the city streets.
A second design appearing in vertical and horizontal formats again is an op art classic. Parallel lines pile up and wrap around the phrase ‘Honesty is the best policy’.
Discussing the choice of phrase, Rob says ‘In a world where dishonesty is rife, misinformation prevails, and integrity has seemingly all but disappeared, this common expression has never been so relevant. I created these posters to remind us all of this truth.’
With the colour version Jim Lambie’s brilliant tape installations spring to mind; the black and white iterations throb and oscillate, setting up a dynamic intrigue as our eyes and minds flicker between reading the message and decoding the spaces from which it rises and falls like a beating heart.
Onetime curator of New York’s MOMA William C. Seitz suggested that “Op art works exist less as objects than as generators of perceptual responses.” In Rob’s posters that use text a question of morality shivers amidst the formal invention. These works, yes, play wow games with our eyes but also hopefully hypnotise with their pulsing message of collective integrity.