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Op Art, the Square and the art of Richard Anuszkiewicz

Vintage Op Art Scarf


I bought this handkerchief at a flea market recently – I loved the op art influence, the squares within squares, and of course that it is in shades of blue. I have always been fascinated by the artwork of Josef Albers and his “Homage to the Square” works.

Months earlier I found a book on the artist Richard Anuszkiewicz whose work this also reminds me of. Anuszkiewicz is a founder and pioneer of the Op Art movement. He was born in 1930 in Pennsylvania to Polish parents.  He explored color interaction and the psychology of our visual perception of color. His work is heavy on symmetry (which I personally love) as well as the use of repetition.



“From Blue” 1972
Detail of “Heat” 1968

Among the fascinating details of Anuszkiewicz’s life is that he studied under Josef Albers at Yale in the 1950’s. It is interesting that he and other students such as Julian Stanczak took up Albers’ exploration of color interaction and found great success as part of the Op Art Movement.

Anuszkiewicz moved to New York City in 1957 and had his first solo exhibit in 1960. His work was markedly different from Abstract Expressionism which was so popular at the time and helped to usher in a new movement. The Museum of Modern Art purchased a painting from his show and later included it in an exhibit next to a work by Victor Vasarely. In 1962 The Whitney Museum staged a show titled “Geometric Abstraction in America” and included paintings by Anuszkiewicz.


“Magnetic Force” 1964

In 1965 the Museum of Modern Art staged “The Responsive Eye” exhibit, which has been called one of the most influential art events of the decade. It was considered the “defining exhibition of Op Art” and established the movement’s place in art history. The show included works by Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Frank Stella, and Josef Albers among many others.


“The Responsive Eye” catalog cover, The Museum of Modern Art, 1965

Anuszkiewicz mapped out his works with mathematical precision and he felt that the conception and planning was the real creative step of the process, more so than the actual painting. He was concerned with showing how the juxtaposition of a color next to another color changes how it appears – as were Josef Albers and many other Op Art artists. In addition to color studies, he was also exploring  geometry and spacial relationships. He had a period in which he only painted in black and white, allowing him to concentrate on pure form and creating the illusion of movement within the canvas.


“Unit” 1966


“Progression” 1965
“Equilateral” 1966


In addition to his paintings, Anuszkiewicz applied his designs to other things such as fashion, rugs, fabric and wrapping paper. I haven’t found images of much of this but I am still looking as it sounds amazing.


Anuszkiewicz painting a coat, image from “Anuszkiewicz” by Karl Lunde


In the 1970’s Anuszkiewicz was commissioned by The Smithsonian Institute to create a design for a scarf to sell in its gift shop. The scarf was produced in a limited edition series in two color combinations. It appears to have been based on his painting “Apex” and features Anuszkiewicz’s signature in the lower right corner.


Scarf by Richard Anuszkiewicz
Scarf by Richard Anuszkiewicz
“Apex” 1966

Another notable collaboration between an Op artist and scarf maker was in 2006. Hermes partnered with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation to produce a limited edition series of numbered scarves based on Albers’ Homage to the Square.  This was the inaugural collaboration in a series called Hermes Editeur which highlights the work of artists.


Josef Albers scarf by Hermes


Josef Albers, Homage to the Square
Image from “Serial Imagery” catalog, The Pasadena Art Museum 1968


In many of Anuszkiewicz’s paintings the colors seems to vibrate. Although the art is very vibrant and bold there is also a quiet poetry to them. The precision of his geometric forms invite a meditative contemplation.

In addition to being featured in exhibitions around the world, Anuszkiewicz’s work is in the permanent collections of many museums.


“Injured by Green” 1963


“Glory Red” 1967



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