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Peter Sedgley brings light to his canvases through optical illusions

Optical art artist Peter Sedgley has recently been showing his light patterned work around the UK - from the Tate to the British Council.

by Georgina MaddoxPublished on : Dec 18, 2019

The enthralling Op-artist Peter Sedgley (b. 1930) has been producing luminous paintings of circles and optical explorations of light and kinetics since the 1960s. For the uninitiated, the Optical art movement got its name ‘Op Art’, from a term coined in 1964 by TIME magazine. Technically, it is a form of abstract art, specifically non-objective art, which relies on optical illusions in order to confuse the viewer. Sedgley and his fellow artist, well-known painter Bridget Riley, are both major British artists and pioneers of the Op art movement.

In 1965, a major Op art exhibition in New York, titled The Responsive Eye, featuring both Sedgley and Riley, captured public attention. As a consequence, the style began appearing in print graphics, advertising and album art, as well as fashion design and interior decorations. It was said that by the end of the 1960s the Op art movement faded. However, Sedgley’s recent exhibitions at the Tate Modern and the British Council art division in the UK, and his solo at Redfern Gallery in London, prove otherwise. The interest in Op art seems to be resurfacing in our contemporary content.

LOOKING GLASS II, 1966, Screen print, signed and numbered 55/75 | Peter Sedgley | Optical Art | STIRworld
LOOKING GLASS II, 1966, Screen print, signed and numbered 55/75 Image Credit: By Editions Alect, Copyright: Peter Sedgley

Sedgley trained as an architect at the Brixton Technical School. He served as an assistant in architectural firms during the 1940s and ‘50s, and began to paint in 1963 and pursued his career as an artist. Along with Riley, Sedgley established S.P.A.C.E. (Space Provision, Artistic, Cultural and Educational), which administered a studio space to young artists. In his work, Sedgley began experimenting with elements like video-rotors (painted disks programmed with patterns of light), and later, incorporating sound with his changing colours. In his space-related, environmental works, Sedgley creates art where light, prisms, and projections are animated by kinetics.

“Sedgley became interested in colour, reading Goethe and (Paul) Klee, and befriending Bridget Riley. His friendship with Riley led them to set up SPACE together, with Peter Townsend, in 1968, whilst Sedgley’s investigations led him into the use of shaped canvases and his series of Target paintings. Their soft colours were painted in circles, as Sedgley believes this to be a neutral shape, encouraging the audience to see colour, not shape. He painted these with a soft-edged spray. Up until then, his paintings had been of hard-edged, clear-cut geometrical forms,” writes the curatorial team at Redfern Gallery, where in June 2019 Sedgley had an important exhibition, titled Masterpiece 2019, that featured other names from the Op art movement as well.

Peter Sedgley, 2014 | Optical Art | STIRworld
Peter Sedgley, 2014 Image Credit: Copyright: Nicholas Sinclair. DACS/Artimage

At the British Council where he is currently showing his work for the exhibition titled, Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, the team including Sam Cornish, the co-curator of the exhibition, featured Sedgely’s work SUSPENSE, 1966. It appealed to their curatorial intentions of underlining the relationship between colour, form, rationality and irrationality. The intention of the exhibition, titled Kaleidoscope, is to capture the 1960s British art, which was noted for its bold, artificial colour. To quote the curatorial team text, the art was noted for its “…alluring surfaces and capricious shapes and forms. Yet these exuberant qualities are often underpinned by a strong sense of order, founded on repetition, sequence and symmetry.” Kaleidoscope examines 1960s visual art through a fresh and surprising lens, bringing into view the relationship between colour and form, rationality and order and waywardness.

Peter Sedgley, Colour Cycle III', 1970| Peter Sedgley | Optical Art| STIRworld
Peter Sedgley, Colour Cycle III', 1970 Image Credit: Tate Modern. Copyright: Peter Sedgley

From this perspective, the mind-bending surfaces of Op art, the flattened repetition of pop, the mathematical order of constructivism, and the sequential placement of brightly-coloured abstract units found in new generation sculpture find a common language shaped by sequence and symmetry.

One can enjoy Sedgley’s creativity as he has continued to make pieces that could be classed as light kinetic art. His experiments with light and music have seen him create works where each respond to the other in innovative ways.  

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