Saturday Studio: Agamographs

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

Yaacov Agam’s portrait by an unknown artist found in the FWMoA Learning Center. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Dumire.

Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, seen above in a visitor drawing, created a type of art so unique that it’s named for him! Today, we’re exploring his agamagrams, or agamographs, a type of lenticular art. 

You’ve almost certainly seen a lenticular before in the form of those images with the ridged clear plastic over the top: when you tilt the picture, it changes! Lenticulars are interactive by nature; in order for the viewer to fully experience the image, they have to do something. This has been Agam’s goal throughout his long career. Agamographs (although they weren’t yet called that) appeared in his first solo exhibition in 1953, and he has since produced them in all forms, from those designed to be hung on a wall like FWMoA’s Paris to building-sized versions that are the walls!

Agam was born in Rishon LeZion, then situated in Palestine, to a rabbi. His deeply religious upbringing influenced his early life, as well as his later choice of imagery. He began his artistic training in Jerusalem before moving to Zurich, finally settling in Paris. Alexander Calder is often credited with inventing kinetic art with his mobiles, but Agam was also an early pioneer of the form, exhibiting alongside Calder in the landmark exhibition Le Mouvement in Paris. Although I would call Agam’s work abstract, since it’s composed of lines, shapes, and colors without recognizable images, he insists that he is not an abstract artist as he strives to capture the invisible world. In 1964, he wrote his artistic credo that remains unchanged (he’s now 92!): 

“My intention was to create a work of art which would transcend the visible, which cannot be perceived except in stages, with the understanding that it is a partial revelation and not the perpetuation of the existing. My aim is to show what can be seen within the limits of possibility which exists in the midst of coming into being.”

Agam, Park West Gallery
Yaacov Agam, Israeli, b. 1928. Paris. Agamograph: lenticular print, ca. 1970. Gift of John and Dawn Hoffman in memory of Richard J. Hoffman, 2014.89. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Let’s apply that to the agamograph in FWMoA’s collection, Paris. When viewed from the front, the image is fragmented, with small blocks of color and black and white stripes. Some of the blocks of color look like ovals, but they are broken up by the stripes. Now, move to one side!

From here, the ovals or circles come together more clearly! We could move further to the side to make the ovals appear more whole, but I like this in-between view so you can really see the effect mid-change.

When we move to the other side, a totally different set of circles comes into view! Is there one “right” way to view Paris? No way! That is the point: one can’t fully experience the work from the front, and each of our experiences with it is different. We could even say that it’s not complete without the interaction of the viewer.

The idea might seem complicated, but agamographs can be made at home through a few different, simple methods. The easiest is to print the template and instructions at the end of this post, but you can find slightly more complicated instructions below (they require more measuring and cutting). 

You’ll need:

  1. Paper (2 pieces of the same size, and one that is twice as long)
  2. Drawing or painting materials of your choice
  3. A ruler
  4. Pencil
  5. Scissors
  6. Glue stick

First, make two drawings or paintings on paper of the same size. Make sure that you have a piece of paper large enough to fit both of them on later; if you only have one size of paper, your drawings should be on half-sheets. The end result will be more obvious if your two drawings are very different from each other: maybe one will be all black and white, and one will be very colorful; or one uses straight lines while the other is curvier. They can be abstract or representational, but it is best to keep them simple.

Now, cut them up! Yes, you have to “destroy” your work! Measure even strips all the way across, marking on the back of your drawings. I am using ½” increments. Measure near the top and bottom of your drawing, draw a small dot, then connect the dots. Carefully cut along the lines (a paper cutter, if you have one, would make quick work of this!). Keep your two drawings separate and keep the strips in order. You can number them before you cut to help.

Now, place the first strip from each drawing side-by-side on your larger piece of paper and glue them down. Continue alternating a strip from each drawing until you’ve used them all! Make sure that you are arranging them in the correct order, with the right edges facing each other (for me, that meant working right to left!). Trim the edges if necessary, leaving a thin border on either end if you wish.

Now, fold your artwork like an accordion in between each strip. You have an agamograph! If you left a bit of your base paper on either end, you can glue these down to another sheet of paper or cardstock to keep the whole thing more stable.

Don’t forget to sign your work! Like Agam, I signed mine twice so it can be displayed either way.

Share your work with us here on the blog or on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

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