Tessellated Designs in My Op Art Paintings

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  • Leonardo

    Tessellated Designs in My Op Art PaintingsAuthor(s): John Scott WillsonSource: Leonardo, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 369-370Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1572514 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 13:28

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  • Leonardo, Vol. 4, pp. 369-370. Pergamon Press 1971. Printed in Great Britain


    John Scott Willson*

    As I am a practising research chemist, my interest in the visual arts has always been biased towards those works in which scientific principles or new techniques are incorporated. My own paintings have developed from simple geometrical non-figura- tive drawings and they have a systematic mathe- matical basis.

    I have been working, for some years, with designs based on simple linear grids in which alternate areas are given contrasting colours, usually black and white [1]. The resulting pattern is similar to the mosaics of Roman times. I have, therefore, des- cribed them as tessellated designs. The type of effect created is most simply demonstrated in comparing the grid used on ordinary graph paper with the chequer-board pattern produced on blocking out alternate squares in that grid. The former design gives a definite horizontal-vertical impression, whereas the latter, especially when viewed from a distance or in subdued lighting, appears to be mainly diagonally orientated. The

    * Artist and chemist, Department of Chemistry, University of York, Heslington, Yorkshire YO1-5DD, England. (Received 15 May 1971.)

    illusion created by alternate shading is due to the eye unconsciously linking together the dominant areas of the same colour and giving little importance to the actual shape of the areas or to the colinearity of their edges. This visual effect is similar to that employed in newspaper photographs, where the individual units of a design are ignored as the eye automatically fuses similar adjacent areas to form a recognizable picture. A number of artists have made use of this visual effect under the heading of Op art [2].

    The three illustrations show typical examples of my work with tessellated designs. In 'Chequered Hexagon' (cf. Fig. 1), the grids used were six sets of radiating lines originating at the apices of a regular hexagon. 'Occellus Tessellatus' (cf. Fig. 2) is formed from two sets of concentric circles and a series of tangents radiating from a point midway between the centres of the circles. 'Opus Tessellatus' (cf. Fig. 3) is based on a set of 48 serpentine lines radiating from the centre of a series of concentric circles which intersect the radii at maxima, minima and points of inflection.

    The designs, in some ways, produce the moire effect and, indeed, the fundamental grid forms are

    Fig. 1. 'Chequered Hexagon', Indian ink on paper, 20 x 30 in., 1969. (Collection of Mrs. C. N. Willson, Tynemouth, Northumberland, England.)


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  • John Scott Willson

    Fig. 2. 'Occellus Tessellatus', Indian ink on paper, 18 x 26 in., 1970. (Collection of Miss J. Robson, Bradford, Yorkshire, England.)

    similar to those used in simple moire patterns [3]. However, tessellated designs differ from moire designs in two important ways. First, the moire effect is only dramatic when the lines of the over- lapping grids have a small angle of intersection. In my pictures, however, there is no restriction on the relative positions of the grids. Second, moire patterns are formed automatically when grids on transparent material or of wire mesh are super- imposed in certain positions. Tessellated designs cannot be formed in this fashion; the blocking out of alternate areas must be done by hand. I have found that the best medium to use is Indian ink, which I apply to white paper with a fine, hair brush. The network of lines is drawn initially in pencil and, subsequently, with a Standagraph pen.

    The designs may be made by drawing the required grids on both white and black paper. Cutting these two sheets along the grid lines gives two identical sets of small units that can be fitted together again in a chequer-board manner to create two tessellated designs. This method is less tedious than painting by hand but the final work is of poorer quality. However, I have used this 'jig-saw' technique successfully to produce a tessellated design in

    Fig. 3. 'Opus Tessellatus', Indian ink on paper, 17 x 17 in., 1970.

    wood veneers with sycamore and mahogany for the light and dark areas, respectively.


    1. Catalogue of the Ninth International Exhibition of Art by Chemists (Chicago: National Chemical Exposition, 1970).

    2. C. Barrett, Op Art (London: Studio Vista, 1970). 3. G. Oster, The Science of Moire Patterns (Barrington, N. J.: Edmund Scientific Co., 1969).



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    Article Contentsp. 369p. 370

    Issue Table of ContentsLeonardo, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 309-412Volume InformationFront MatterArticles by ArtistsA Discussion of My Drawings and Paintings [pp. 309 - 314]Advanced Training Simplified for Amateur Painters [pp. 315 - 322]Furniture-Inspired Sculpture [pp. 323 - 329]

    Computers and Visual Art [pp. 331 - 338]Structure and Patterns in Science and Art [pp. 339 - 346]NotesRemarks on Painting and on Shaped Canvases [pp. 347 - 349]'Plaiton' Sculpture: Its Origin and Development [pp. 351 - 354]Geometric Paintings with Earth Colors [pp. 355 - 356]On Introducing Art into the Design of Traffic Lights [pp. 357 - 358]On J. J. Gibson's New Perspective [pp. 359 - 360]Comments on Gibson's Theory on the Relation between Hallucination and Perception [pp. 361 - 362]Computer Arts Course for Secondary Schools [p. 363]Statistical Shading Using Digital Computer Program ART2 [pp. 365 - 367]Tessellated Designs in My Op Art Paintings [pp. 369 - 370]

    DocumentsAn Interview with Robert Graves on Science and Society [pp. 371 - 375]An Interview with Dewain Valentine, Sculptor of Plastic [pp. 377 - 380]Potential Health Hazards of Sculptors' Materials [pp. 381 - 384]Contemporary Art and the Public [pp. 385 - 387]

    Terminology [pp. 389 - 390]Booksuntitled [pp. 391 - 392]untitled [pp. 392 - 395]untitled [pp. 395 - 396]untitled [pp. 396 - 397]untitled [p. 397]untitled [p. 398]untitled [p. 398]untitled [pp. 398 - 399]untitled [p. 399]Books Received [pp. 399 - 400]

    International Science: Art News [pp. 401 - 403]LettersOn Hallucination and Perception [pp. 405 - 407]On Randomness in Art [pp. 407 - 408]The Sociology of Aesthetics [p. 408]Art and Mans' Cultural Evolution [pp. 408 - 411]On Book Reviews [pp. 411 - 412]Corrections Received [p. 412]Corrections Received [p. 412]Corrections Received [p. 412]Corrections Received [p. 412]

    Back Matter


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