Ron Agam: Incandescent Chromophilia
It’s a cold and rainy winter morning in New York City. I’m in a taxi crossing the Queensboro Bridge on route to Ron Agam’s studio. I know that as soon as I arrive, my blue, wintry mood is bound to be uplifted. The French-Israeli artist’s kinetic, mood-enhancing paintings exact on the viewer a feeling of euphoria mixed with awe. As compositions of concentric squares, his lenticular and polymorphic paintings are exhilarating and hypnotic.
As I enter Ron’s Long Island City studio, I am greeted by Rusky, the artist’s tiny white Maltese. Rusky happily strolls next to the stunning, large-scale optical relief paintings on display, his lively movements accentuating the paintings’ magnitude and perfect dynamism. Ron Agam approaches, smiling. His expressive hazel eyes are soft-spoken, exuding a radiant aura of positive, serene energy.
Talent runs in the family; as the son of world-renowned Israeli kinetic artist Yaacov Agam, Ron only began painting after he turned 52 (he is now 59 years old). “I began this work as a leap, without knowing where it would go,” Ron explains. “And I don’t think about it now; I just paint.”
Following his long and successful career as a fine art photographer, Ron had an epiphany after he turned down one of the largest and most lucrative job opportunities of his career—a photo book for luxury group LVMH. “Everybody criticized me and I went into a deep depression,” Agam explains, describing how he retreated to his studio, reemerging only several months later as the artist he is today. “I saw a crayon [in the studio] and I started to draw.” From that point onward, Ron never looked back. In a short, nine-year span, he has created an impressive body of work, embracing a dizzying array of techniques from lenticular, optical experiments to distilled, saturated color fields.
His use of color is unique; through juxtaposing power-saturated hues, every color reverberates, simultaneously igniting the vibrancy of its counterparts. Ron Agam’s paintings are incandescent. He explains, “My inspiration and colors came from watching my father painting in his studio in Paris which had previously been Gauguin’s atelier. As a child I witnessed how my father was working. He would use 200–300 shades of a color, a mesmerizing process to witness.” In his three-dimensional, large-scale optical reliefs, the artist’s stunning dexterity with lenticular/stereoscopic technology dazzles. The perfect dynamism of Agam’s Homage to Newton and Ein Sof resonated with me. Homage to Newton features approximately one hundred black and white concentric squares that appear, at times, to be both a tunnel and a pyramid through their spellbinding, illusory movement. Ein Sof—the Kabbalistic term for “God’s Infinite Light”—consists of a large, irregularly sided red hexagon that seems to be extruding from its core countless concentric, twisting white hexagons. The effect is astounding, leaving me to wonder if my sight is cast upon a mountain’s peak, an all-knowing eye, or a cosmic vortex.
As Josef Albers said, “Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature.”
Eva Zanardi- Could you tell me a little bit about your most recent series of work? How do you feel it differs from your previous ones?
Ron Agam- These most recent works were inspired by my interest in the square. As a young child I discovered the work of Joseph Albers at the Denise Renée Gallery in Paris. I was somehow subjugated by what appears to be very minimalistic, almost simplistic, interpretation of a very familiar geometric shape. The subject of the square keeps finding an important place in my artistic experience. So these recent paintings are explorations around different metamorphoses related to imaginary interpretations around the square.
EZ- Some of your paintings’ repetitive patterns seem to me like a meditation on life, as they pulsate with vigor. Does religion or spirituality inspire you as an artist?
RA- You know, it’s interesting that you asked this question. I am a spiritual person and I often refer to Kabbalistic teachings. But I also traveled the world extensively, and I visited mosques in Iran, Isfahan, one of the most extraordinary ones that impressed me immensely. You could not stay insensitive to your surroundings. Your milieu, your cultural background, and your spiritual life. Also nature has played an immense role in my development as an artist. For years, I observed nature, and in particular the world of flowers. The structure, colors, and even smell of flowers were a major inspiration in some of my works. This sublime order, architecture, of leaves, of petals is something that I paid closed attention to.
EZ- The first time I saw your artwork I was deeply affected by the absolute, vibrant saturation of the colors in your paintings. I felt elated, and my brain was left tingling. Can you tell me a little bit more about the choice of colors in your paintings?
RA- It’s true that in my choice of colors I often try to create strong visual impressions accentuated by vivid colors. Like a conductor in a symphony, I want to generate strong emotions, and therefore my choice of colors tends to be around highly saturated and pigmented tones. I also like to surprise and break the rules. I like to surprise myself by applying colors in what is almost a disorder. Later, I rediscover the painting, and it’s more intense than I would have expected before. But maybe it’s only a moment, who knows. I would like to stress the fact that in many of these paintings I’m using special resin that gives me an additional depth that expresses itself through an incredible richness of color. It’s a unique experience to look at these paintings in person. No photographs can express the life of these paintings.
EZ- I have been writing about and researching Kinetic and Op-art for many years now, and forecasted a resurgence of both styles. Now that it’s happened, do you have any insight on the reasons for its come back?
RA- This is an interesting question, as for me, Kinetic art is the closest connection to the world in which we live. The most constant thing in life is change, movement. No art school can be more in-sync with the world in which we live. Kinetic art would’ve been Albert Einstein’s favorite art movement had he been alive today. No doubt about it. The 21st century will bring Kinetic Art to the forefront of all the artistic movements. It’s the art most connected to the constant evolution and acceleration we live in today. It’s a fact. The digital world is also a critical vessel to experimentation in various forms of kinetics. Op-art is a derivative of kinetic art where retinal experimentations are encapsulated in a more limited perception. It is an interesting form of expression, but often lacks the depth of the kinetic art movement.
EZ- How would you describe your relationship to art, and more specifically, how has you experience as a professional photographer helped you find your creative point of view?
RA- I was a fine art photographer before becoming a painter. My particular case is really unique. The digital world of computers was very familiar to me. As a photographer, it enabled me to unleash my imagination. As a painter, my comfort level with the most extraordinary digital tools available today enabled me to formalize and conceptualize visual concepts and imaginary worlds way faster than artists would 20 years ago.
EZ- Why do you think New York is the best place to build your clientele, experience, and businesses as a contemporary artist?
RA- New York City is the ideal place for an artist to exist. You have the ultimate access to anything an artist can dream of: galleries, museums, collectors, infrastructures, media support, an emerging artist scene, etc., and a huge pool of international collectors. Plus the city is electrifying; knowing you are in the center of this beehive makes you stronger as a witness of your time.
EZ- What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
RA- You know I’m the painter, I create my works and I’m really happy doing it. I spend 18 hours a day, seven days a week in my studio working on my passion. From to time I meet people, we talk. Every individual on this earth is different. I’ve learned from everybody. I love to ask questions, it enriches my mind, my life experience, and truly opens my eyes. I never asked myself the question of what I’d want people to ask me, but rather I engage them and I wait for a surprise.
EZ- How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you think your work as a painter is playing a role in this shift in thinking?
RA- I consider many of my works disruptive, I even entitled them Disruptions. I think the word disruption embodies one of the most important concepts in the world in which we live. Every other second you witness disruption in the world. Technology, politics, entertainment, and media all revolve around this word. If you are not a disruptor, you don’t exist as a leader, as an important artist, as a politician. So many of my paintings incorporate this concept of disruption, the instant in which you lose all references. I fought many years to understand how I could apply it in my works. I think I’ve been successful, but it’s only the beginning, as there’s still a long way to go.
I walk around the spacious, lofty rooms of Ron’s studio, which is filled with hundreds of his artworks, some neatly hanged, some stacked on each other, some on easels or tables. I understand what he means when he says disruption: a dazzling vision of beauty in turmoil. The artist challenges us to embrace and focus on our inner turmoil as the seed of transformation, newfound awareness, and spiritual growth.
“I was always drawn to abstraction never to realism. Realism leaves a constraint in your mind. Abstraction leaves you free.” -Ron Agam
Eva Zanardi interviewed Ron Agam on the occasion of his upcoming exhibition at GR gallery NY from April 20 to May 28, 2017.
© 2016 Eva Zanardi
–Eva Zanardi is a curator, art advisor and art writer specializing in Kinetic Art, Op Art and contemporary art.