Yvaral Vasarely

A creator in tune with his time

It is common to read that Yvaral belongs to the “optico-kinetic generation” or that he is one of the most famous representatives of kinetic art, this artistic movement very trendy in the years 1960-1970. However, an analysis of his work shows that for 40 years Yvaral has pursued a very characteristic approach, outside of any trends; It is even paradoxical to mention his very personal approach in a work where he has made sure of removing all personal involvement, all feelings, all intimate reactions.

The psychoanalyst’s couch has no place in his studio. “Creation is a process, not an outpouring” he liked to repeat. Isn’t it ambitious, in such a diversified work, borrowing a multitude of forms of expression, to try to extract an unfailing fidelity to a single orientation?
Can we not detect a clue in Yvaral’s habit of highlighting his catalogs with a quote from Leonardo da Vinci on the persistence of rigor?

In the wake of Malevich, the Russian Avant-Garde, the Dutch De Stijl movement with Mondrian and van Doesburg, in the wake of the Bauhaus, among others Josef Albers, Max Bill and of course Victor Vasarely, Yvaral immediately undertakes constructive geometric abstraction.

Very quickly, he resorts to elementary and neutral formal means: square, round, or any other simple geometrical form. In 1959, he settled on a principle of systematization from which he would not deviate: the composition must be as elementary and neutral as the forms themselves; it must obey rigorous rules, a logical process, a programmed system, without the intervention of chance or the human being. When in 1967 it includes the color, it is with systematized scales, rigorously calibrated.

When I met Yvaral, he was already involved in the Groupe de Recherche l’Art Visuel, whose six members, rejecting the myth of the inspired artist, proposed to banish the word “art” from their vocabulary and replace it with “visual experience situated on the plane of physiological perception”; they were advocating for the direct contact of the viewer with the “visual phenomenon”.

“Our deliberate refusal to impose a univocal and definitive meaning to the work” is translated, among other things, by the recommendation of an active and effective participation of the spectator, the artist imposing only the rules and the matter of “the game”, being understood that the spectator can always improvise new rules”.

The GRAV favored teamwork; Yvaral specialized in the reliefs experimenting with the moiré effect and diffraction, using in particular networks of vinyl threads stretched in front of a structured background or staggered in depth. “What I personally try”, wrote Yvaral in 1965, “is to operate a sort of decentering by playing with variations of scale and permutations of structures, in order to open perception to new fields of investigation”.

Then with his series “Cubic Structures” and “Structured Horizons”, Yvaral methodically, rigorously and creatively builds collections of elementary shapes and precise colors, which are modular, combinable and which he associates or permutes on abstract distribution schemes.

When, from 1975 onwards, he uses digitalized images (faces, landscapes, monuments), it is as distribution schemes for his combinable elementary modules or his calibrated color ranges; Yvaral does not seek, through his digitalized portraits, to express a personality or a character, nor even to pay homage to the person represented.

After having explored “the field of possibilities” with the face of Salvador Dali and mine, Yvaral chooses to explore the portrait of the Mona Lisa and then the face of Marilyn Monroe, easily identifiable by the general public because they are drawn from the collective consciousness. “The essential part of my work,” he has often told me, “are the developments with digitalized images”.

For ten years, he digitalized images according to an ingenious but archaic process based on a projection on a squared screen, a few photoelectric cells and a multitude of measurements with a light meter. The micro-computing being still in the state of project, the preparatory work of digitalization, infinitely long, marks the heroic beginnings of a new period of creation.

Then, following the same principle of transposition of the analogical in digital, taking advantage of the progress of the micro-computing and of the set-up of a specially conceived configuration, he digitalizes the initial image according to an infinitely faster and more manageable process, opening new perspectives to the creation and, he insisted on specifying, “while remaining faithful to the technique of the acrylic on canvas, of big dimension, with the particularity of a meticulous, rigorous and long run execution”.

I was sometimes puzzled when I would encounter Yvaral, after long hours in his studio, filling large sheets of paper with numbers, tirelessly pursuing his research on number theory. For him, mathematics and artistic creation are two very distinct domains even if, as Abraham Moles pointed out, “it is perhaps in geometric art and its continuation, digital art, that the distance between science and art is the smallest, and that their community of attitude and action is the greatest”.

Behind the imagination of an impersonal work, a real person.

A face where childhood lingers, a magician’s confidence combined with an adolescent gaucherie, Yvaral was paradox and grace, a great burst of laughter, simplicity, humor, a permanent kindness, attentiveness and generosity, preserved innocence, rigor and integrity.

A creator with fundamental moral values, whose work was always in line with his underlying concept, he was the antithesis of the inspired artist who earnestly delivered his messages.

If Art is a school of greatness where the artist must be exemplary, Yvaral was one of those who express this conception and whose life was only worth living because of the goal that justified it. He never turned away from his ideal and made no concessions to fashion or to his own interests.

He had an unwavering admiration and devotion to his father, Victor Vasarely. He collaborated with him on all the architectural integrations and assisted him, surrounded him in the last phase of his life with an admirable constancy.

May this site encourage an approach to his work as he would have wished! It represents the expression of my loyalty to the man, as well as to the Artist, who has shaped me and to whom I owe what I am today.

Michèle Vasarely