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    Larry Poons

Lawrence Poons painted the deceptively ingenious and visually afferent Sunnyside Switch in 1963. It is an early example of optical or "op" art.

 
"Sunnyside Switch," Lawrence Poons, 1963

If one stares intensely at the picture surface, focusing on one of the dots for fifteen to twenty seconds, the cones -- light and color receptors in the retina of the eye -- overstimulate and remain stimulated for a short period, even after the actual gaze ceases. Thus the cones continue to send image impulses to the brain (though in a complementary hue), and the viewer will "see" dots that are not really there. Moreover, if the viewer extends looking at the painting, with any movement of the eyes, the afterimage dots will seem to jump accordingly. And as certain of Poons' dots are eliptical, rather than round, and placed on a diagonal axis, those afterimage dots will take on "direction" and will appear to streak across the canvas. A whole new design phenomenon thereby plays over the original composition; though inasmuch as individuals have differing ocular sensitivities and view the total composition with different eye-movement patterns, no two people experience or "see" exactly the same result.

  


Larry Poons 

Paintings like this were "devices" of pure design and color to sensitize and play tricks on the eyes: vibrating color combinations, perspective dislocations, moire-like patterns, illusory distortions of form caused by alternating positive and negative designs, reversible images and other traditional optical illusions. Op was in part a reaction against abstract expressionism, the style that had dominated American contemporary art since the mid 1940s.

Poons was influenced by the "boogie-woogie" paintings that Piet Mondrian produced in the United States the two years before his death in 1944. One senses a Mondrian-esque ordered rectangular system in Sunnyside Switch, as a kind of invisible structure seems to hold Poons' dot motifs suspended on a diagonal grid over the continuous color plane. Poons used the term "surface tension" to denote the quality of tautness, yet compositional tractability, that results. But the principal visual effect that distinguishes Poons' work is generated by the "device" of photogenes-more commonly known as afterimages.

Boogie-woogie paintings by Mondrian

By the mid-sixties, Larry moved away from the optical, scientific aspect of his work in a more poetic and painterly direction.

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