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An Elegy to Colour, Geometry and Optics: The Visual Resonance and Forms of Julio Le Parc
By Andrew Bay, UK
Julio Le Parc was born into a modest family in Argentina in 1928, and grew up in Buenos Aires. Very early on, he showed a singular talent for drawing and painting, and eventually enrolled in the Buenos Aires School of Fine Arts from which he graduated in 1955. After receiving a grant from the French Beaux Arts Academy, Le Parc moved to Paris in 1958, where he began to hone his craft diligently.
Although he was working with limited resources, he would intensely produce sketches and drafts, experimenting with gouache or acrylics. He was devoted to studying the works of the great Constructivists painters, Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin. He also started exploring the possibilities of geometric creation, found in Piet Mondrian’s paintings.
The Dutch master considerably influenced a young Le Parc, who closely studied the expansion of forms and their potential relationships, which are seminal in Mondrian’s work. This proved to be the building blocks on which Le Parc, began his own creative investigations. He began to be known for producing compelling works which invigorate and reconstruct the spatial context from the vintage point of luminosity. Le Parc started to display this emerging new approach from the end of the 1950s onwards, particularly in a series of mesmerising installations featured in his earliest shows in Paris. This also marked his first forays into abstract systems-based paintings.
Le Parc is often rightly considered to be a pioneer of Kinetic Art, with his groundbreaking use of visual effects, intricate spatial mazes and parallel geometric planes. A number of his early paintings also anticipate the early days of the Op Art movement. In pivotal works such as "Relief 13" (1970), Le Parc subtly steers polychromatic hues and shades to create negative space in synchronised intermissions.
The essence of Le Parc's work could already be found in these interactive works, his natural curiosity, his searching spirit. He had always shied away from being too closely associated with any particular school, whether it might be Surrealist Art, Genetic Art, or Geometric Art. However, he decided at the end of 1958, to start his own movement, with a group of like-minded up an coming artists under the acronym GRAV (translated from French, Group of Visual Art Research). Under the mentorship of Hungarian-born painter and sculptor Victor Vasarely, Le Parc joined forces with Yvaral (Vasarely's son), Francois Morellet, Francois Molnar and Joel Stein amongst others. Together, they challenged the public and critics, by printing political pamphlets and policy statements to challenge what they perceived to be the purpose of art in their cultural and social environment.
The movement became increasingly involved in radical activism which culminated in the 1968 Paris students' and workers' revolts. The artists contributed satirical drawings and sketches to show their support to the students' cause.
The late 1960s marked a significant transition in Le Parc's work, as he began to incorporate 3D angles, perspectives and projections in his paintings. From 1964 onwards, he had started experimenting with radiance produced by mirrors, assembled together to disperse light tones, in order to supplant the spectator's focal point of experience. The gallery space was thus transformed into a labyrinthine game of reflecting shadows and light, constantly flowing into one another.
At the heart of Le Parc's work, we can see the continuity of his examination of the contours and reflections of light, used as a primary material and substance. He then dissects how it impacts the spectator's eye, its proposed surface of contact. From the point of view of the experiences presented to each spectator, his installations and artworks are in a state of perpetual motion and fluidity. Le Parc is intent on transforming our perception of the multiplicity of roles embedded in the dialogue which continuously take place between the artist, the viewer, and the institution of the gallery. He pushes us off the kilter of a perceived visual equilibrium, dispossessing the work from its possible interpretations and forcing the viewer into a game of unstable relationships. This is the reason why Le Parc's works produce a boundless amount of alterations and variations. Through them, the movement of light flows in and out of being, creating an interactive experience of time, through the active collaboration of the viewer's observations.