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Francois Morellet

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Name: Francois

Surname: Morellet

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Date of Death: 2016

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As a fan of abstract art, you may be familiar with the hypnotic geometries of François Morellet’s work. His minimalist style featuring precise lines and angles in vivid palettes has captivated art enthusiasts for decades. Yet how well do you know the man behind these masterful optical illusions? Though Morellet’s artistic impact is undeniable, the details of his life remain obscured for many. 

François Morellet led a long, productive life dedicated to his artistic craft. His dedication to experimentation with geometric abstraction resulted in a prolific body of work that has secured his place as a pioneer of optical art. While his style and subject matter remained broadly consistent over six decades, Morellet's restless experimentation with materials, colours, and forms demonstrates an artist unwilling to rest on his laurels or repeat himself. 

At his death at the age of 90, Morellet left behind an enduring legacy as a 20th-century master who expanded the possibilities of what visual art could be. His life's work serves as an inspiration and reminder of the rewards that can come from persistence, an open and curious mind, and a willingness to follow your vision.

This comprehensive biography aims to illuminate the experiences, influences, and events which shaped Morellet’s distinctive esthetic and enduring creative vision. Through examining Morellet’s life and works, discover how one man charted new visual territories and uncovered hidden dimensions of human perception.

François Morellet BIOGRAPHY

François Morellet
Image Credit: MoMA

Early Life and Education

François Morellet was born on April 30, 1926 in Cholet, France. Morellet grew up in Cholet, a small town in western France. His father was an industrialist, and his mother came from an aristocratic family.

Morellet studied mathematics at the Lycée in Angers from 1938 to 1945. He then studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1945 to 1949. During his time in Paris, Morellet immersed himself in the city's post-war avant-garde art scene. He attended exhibitions of work by contemporary artists like Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian.

In 1950, Morellet abandoned his architectural studies to focus on art. He began experimenting with abstract geometric art after being introduced to the work of Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg. Morellet was particularly interested in De Stijl, a movement that emphasized simplicity and abstraction using straight lines and primary colours.

In 1952, Morellet co-founded the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, an organization dedicated to promoting geometric abstraction. The group held annual shows highlighting contemporary kinetic and optical art. Through this organization, Morellet met other artists working in a similarly abstract style, including Victor Vasarely, Auguste Herbin, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp.

What is François Morellet known for?

François Morellet
Image Credit: MoMA

François Morellet established himself as a pioneering figure in kinetic and op art. These art forms involve the creation of optical illusions and visual effects through manipulating patterns, shapes and colours. His groundbreaking installations and artworks explored visual perception and the relationship between art and technology. 

Morellet demonstrated how simple geometric forms, when strategically organized, could yield dramatic visual and sensory experiences. His influential creations earned him international recognition and established him as a leader of the op-art movement.

Career highlights

François Morellet
Image Credit: The Mayor Gallery

Early Works: The Grid

In his early works of the 1950s, Morellet began using the grid as a basis for his compositions. He created precise, symmetrical arrangements of lines and squares. These early grid paintings established Morellet as a pioneer of geometric abstraction and minimalism in France.


The Neon Series

In the 1960s, Morellet started incorporating neon tubing into his work. He arranged lengths of neon into geometric patterns, often manipulating the tubes into curves or spirals. The neon lights transformed his static grids into vibrant, glowing sculptures. The Neon Series cemented Morellet’s reputation as an innovator who fused minimalism with technology.


Combining Shape and Light

Over the following decades, Morellet continued to unite primary geometric forms with light and movement. He created room-sized installations with kinetic elements and outdoor public art pieces on an architectural scale. 

Regardless of medium or size, Morellet’s works maintain a sense of logic, precision and play that define his signature style. His mastery of shape and light established him as a leading proponent of optical art.

François Morellet List of Work

François Morellet
Image Credit: Exposition Art Blog

Major Artistic Influences on Morellet's Style

Morellet's style was shaped by his desire to introduce objective rules, mathematical precision, and controlled randomness into art. The geometric abstraction, kinetic art, and op art movements gave him the tools and inspiration to achieve that goal. 

Through simple shapes, patterns, motion, and optics, Morellet created a body of work that was both highly rational and dizzyingly chaotic body of work. His unique fusion of these seemingly contradictory qualities produced a purely logical and wildly kinetic artistic style.


Geometric Abstraction

Morellet was strongly influenced by the geometric abstraction movement, which focused on geometric forms and hard-edged style. His early works featured geometric shapes like squares, lines, and grids arranged in simple patterns. This minimalistic and mathematically-inspired style characterized much of his career and earned him the label of "the geometrician of abstract art."


Kinetic Art

In the 1950s, Morellet began creating kinetic art incorporating movement. His kinetic sculptures featured geometric forms with movable parts, creating the illusion of motion and kinetics. Morellet aimed to introduce chance and randomness into his art using kinetic sculptures. His kinetic works helped establish him as a kinetic and op art pioneer.


Optical Art

Morellet is also considered a seminal figure in the op art movement, which used optical illusions to create a sense of direction. His geometric abstract paintings from the 1960s featured repetitive patterns, lines, and colour contrasts that seemed to vibrate and move. These optical effects cause a sense of dizziness or distortion in the viewer. Morellet's op artworks were highly influential on the movement.


Morellet's Kinetic and Op Art Creations

1950s

“Cold art”

Morellet began experimenting with abstract geometric shapes and grids. He created paintings featuring precise arrangements of lines, squares, and triangles in style.

1961

61 Souffles Bleus

These mesmerizing installations explore the perceptual effects of light, shadow, and colour.

1964

5 Trames 0°-22.5°-45°-67.5°-90°

1952-53

Sphère-Trame

These works challenge viewers’ visual perception by arranging shapes and colours.

1990

No End Neon



The Legacy of Morellet's Abstract Art

François Morellet's abstract artworks have secured his status as a kinetic and optical art pioneer. His legacy lives on through his thought-provoking installations and sculptures in major museums worldwide.


Pushing the Boundaries of Art

Morellet was determined to challenge traditional artistic conventions. His early abstract paintings broke free from the emotional and expressive styles of the postwar École de Paris. Instead, he employed geometric forms and mathematical systems to create optical illusions and kinetic effects. This unconventional approach was controversial but helped establish Morellet at the forefront of avant-garde art.


A Lifetime of Innovation

Over his 70-year career, Morellet continually explored new materials and techniques. He worked with neon lights, steel, and industrial paint in addition to traditional artistic mediums. His experimentation resulted in imaginative sculptures, murals, and immersive environments. Morellet’s passion for innovation energized the kinetic and optical art movements and inspired younger generations of artists.

Morellet’s art encourages viewers to reflect on their perceptions and assumptions about the world. His interactive and thought-provoking pieces have enduring relevance and power. Museums recognize the significance of his contributions through major retrospectives and the inclusion of his works in permanent collections. Morellet’s creative vision and lifelong dedication to his craft have cemented his status as a 20th-century master.

The imaginative spirit of Morellet’s art lives on and continues to spark new ideas. His abstract compositions remain influential and provide creative inspiration. Morellet demonstrated how art can challenge conventions, stimulate debate, and push the boundaries of human imagination. The power and poignancy of his works ensure an enduring legacy as an innovator who shaped the pioneer course of modern art.


When Did François Morellet Die?

Morellet died on May 11, 2016, in Cholet, France, at 90.

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