Cover credit: Joan Starwood and Photo-Lettering

I’m a bit obsessed with Scientific American covers, but my knowledge of the archive during the years before my time on staff is broad rather than deep. Artist Philippe Decrauzat, on the other hand, has developed an intense connection with a very specific cover image: May 1963. It was the inspiration point for his series of paintings, On Cover, initiated in 2011.

The latest iteration of that series can be seen now in the Pour Tout Diviser exhibition at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery in Manhattan (September 13-October 29, 2014). Clearly well versed in moir? effects, Decrauzat breathes life into the classic cover image.

View of "pour tout diviser" exhibition, by Philippe Decrauzat. Photograph by Etienne Frossard. Courtesy the Artist and Elizabeth Dee, New York.

The May 1963 article “Moir? Patterns” (by Gerald Oster and Yasunori Nishijima) defines moir? patterns thusly,

“When one looks through a window screen that happens to be in front of another window screen, one sees a curious pattern that results from a combination of the lines in the two screens. Such patterns are called moir?s, and they are produced whenever two periodic structures are overlapped… In the typical moir? pattern the moir? effect materializes when two sets of straight lines are superposed so that they intersect at a small angle. If the superposed lines are nearly parallel, a tiny displacement of one of the figures will give rise to a large displacement in the elements of the moir? pattern. In other words, the displacement is magnified. This phenomenon has far-reaching implications in many disciplines of science.”

Painting by Philippe Decrauzat (On Cover, 2014; Acrylic on canvas; 74 3/4 x 31 1/2 inches (190 x 80 cm); Image courtesy the Artist and Elizabeth Dee, NY; Photographer: Etienne Frossard)

A conversation with Decrauzat about his research and influences–which includes the co-author of the article mentioned above, Gerald Oster (1918-1993)–inspired me to learn more.

Author of seven articles for Scientific American magazine (his bio as it appeared in the February 1970 issue is shown to the right), Oster also taught biophysics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and polymer chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He was exhibited at the Howard Wise Gallery (Oster’s Magic Moir?s in 1965, and Moir?s and Phosphenes in 1966), and was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) 1965 exhibition entitled The Responsive Eye, a collection of works that existed “less as objects to be examined than as generators of perceptual responses in the eye and mind of the viewer.” (Click here for a pdf download of the original release). Despite the fact that he was an artist in his own right, it is interesting to note that Oster did not execute any of the illustrations in the May 1963 article. Credits go to Joan Starwood and Photo-Lettering for the cover image, and Joan Starwood, Photo-Lettering, and Martin J. Weber Studio for the article graphics.

Many thanks to Decrauzat for sharing his work, and highlighting Scientific American’s connections to the Op art (optical art) movement.