Towards a Stereoscopic Aesthetics
a child I lived next door to a library that had a magical old Brewster
stereoscope and a large collection of stereo cards that I enjoyed for
many years. It was a fascination that carried over to a time in 1942
when I found myself teaching the art of camouflage to air force troops.
In so doing, part of this instruction involved looking through a stereoscope
at aerial photo stereo pairs of concealed weaponry. I also utilized
Polaroid aerial stereo vectographs that required Polaroid glasses to
achieve stereopsis. In addition, I was astonished to discover that
I could free view the photos without the aid of a stereoscope.
Art & Design, Laney College, Oakland
experiences returned with a vengeance later in 1963-64 when as an art
instructor at Laney College in Oakland, California, I created an art
course called Photographic Art and Design that embraced a segment on
space, form and color that grew so important that in time led to my
seriously introducing 35mm single lens stereoscopic photography to students.
Eventually, urged on by their excitement, I began in 1966-67 to devote
a full semester to the aesthetics of stereoscopic space. I trained
students to take stereo-paired slide photographs with ordinary single
lens cameras of every make and description. I set about assigning them
to shoot subjects in the field to solve various compositional and visual
vocabulary design problems with their cameras utilizing handmade slide
bar devices of their own design. This permitted them to explore a wide
range of interocular spatial aesthetics involved with ortho, hypo and
This laboratory class became very popular and
grew to auditorium size during 1968-69 when I began projecting and critiquing
their solutions to design problems on large ten-foot projection screens. This was done by fixing polarized cardboard
tubes to fit over the lenses of two Kodak carousel slide projectors. Students, of course, wore polarized glasses.
I also taught them to free view their work by cross vision.
Students developed very imaginative responses to the design,
space and form problems I gave them as they freely experimented with
interocular stereopsis, free vision, exaggerated perspective, infra
red, aerial stereoscopy, interpenetration of forms, convex-concave contrapuntal
stereopsis and other interesting hybrids.
Their stereoscopic design problem solving was extraordinary. See examples: student work (1968-74)
Total Environment Learning
the above period the Peralta Community College District had won a bond
election to build a new Laney College campus. I was very involved with
this process and in July 1966 I conceived the idea (virtual reality)
of building what I called a Total Environment
Learning Laboratory (TELL). It was a plan to provide in the new
campus for a specialized geodesic architectural facility to be utilized
by Art, Humanities, Academic and Science departments. The space was
also to serve as an atmospherium and planetarium. It included a hemispheric
screen with both planar and stereoscopic projection with the
added ability to control tactal, aromatic, temperature, atmosphere,
color and light. I presented this plan to incoming President Wallace
Homitz, who quickly seized upon the idea, joining me as a collaborator
and freeing me from 50% of my teaching to further develop the concept.
TELL project was an outgrowth of my earlier
utilization of multiple screen projection technique in 1964 in teaching
Art History. At the time I was teaching in a facility I had developed
and called a “Perceptual Learning Center” in January 1965.
a consequence of both the TELL project
and my teaching stereoscopic photography, I pursued contact
with many stereo technologists who would have a lasting impact on my
eventual interest in stereoscopic painting and aesthetics. I met Joseph
P. Fallon in 1967, president of the Oakland Stereo Photographic Club
who became an invaluable resource for my understanding the technology
of stereovision. He would be my friend and mentor for many years.
He introduced me to the Stereoscopic Society in England and through
him in 1968 I met Professor Harold Layer from San Francisco State University
who was completing his Indiana University doctoral thesis titled: “STEREOSCOPY:
An Analysis of its history and its import to education and the communication
process”. Professor Layer’s help and support would prove important
to me. Fallon also introduced me to mid west Photographic Society of
America member Earl Krause who was the foremost expert on the practical
applications of stereoscopic free vision technology in the world. I
maintained very close correspondence with this pioneer throughout the
70’s as I advanced my knowledge of stereoscopic free vision.
1966-1975 Stereoscopic Drawings
By 1968 Photographic Art and Design
had grown to embrace two semesters (one year) entirely devoted to stereoscopic
aesthetics. It was an experimental laboratory that I personally
drew inspiration from and I found myself from 1966 forward beginning
to create stereoscopic drawings. With
naked eye cross vision I had also begun to freely orchestrate two-dimensional
planes in a stereo space. While
influenced by the synergy between student and teacher I had also earlier
joined the Stereoscopic Society based in England in 1964 and had been
receiving their monthly bulletins.
The greatest impact on my drawing came from Bulletin No. 14,
June 1966, titled “Stereoscopic Drawing” in which J. R. Gould demonstrated
a drawing of curved planes in space.
Early ideas on Stereoscopic Painting
I critiqued the hundreds of slide responses I was receiving weekly,
I began to think seriously in 1968 of painting large scale canvases
and exploring the aesthetics of a stereoscopic fine art. Free viewing
large stereo pairs on 10 ft. screens inevitably contributed to this
Serial & Stacked Stereoscopic (wall-eyed) Crystallographic Expanses
also discovered quite by accident in 1969 that a long serial group of
stereo pairs could be easily free viewed as a linear frieze
and totally held in the mind as if by magic. I was stunned! This would
lead immediately to my creating crystallographic stereo expanses (multiple
stacking of stereo pairs) called today “wall eyed” stereo viewing).
My fascination with multiple stereo paired stacking came as a result
of free viewing long strips of uncut 35mm slide film of student work
representing their slide-bar inter ocular spatial studies of particular
Symmetrical Stereo Pairs (spatial inversion)
also found that symmetrical stereo pairs could be effectively
viewed (seen inside out) no matter whether the stereo pairs were left/right
oriented or right/left. Symmetrical forms appear very beautiful when
they are created for this purpose. I felt this represented a powerful
new spatial aesthetics ripe for exploration in the fine arts. Stereo
technicians and historians called this type of viewing “pseudoscopic”
and a curiosity. Disliking the term pseudoscopic, I began to refer
to this discovery as contrapuntal (concave - convex) spatial inversion.
Year 1970 –71 (Iran & Europe)
ferment was to be put on hold throughout 1970 with sabbatical year planning
that involved all the complexities of selling a home. When this was
done I sent my family ahead to Iran in November, joining them later
in February 1971. It was no accident that during my visits to the stunning
tiled Mosque’s in southern Iran at Shiraz and Isfahan, I began to conceive
the idea that one could design repeated symmetrically inverse stereo
tile assemblages for architecture that could be free viewed with the
naked eye by cross vision at any scale. However, this would all have
to wait until my return.
Large Scale Acrylic Stereoscopic Canvases
after returning from my sabbatical in November 1971 and resettling into
a new home, I began again what I had earlier postponed. In February
1972 I commenced painting a series of very large scale stereoscopic
(free vision—cross sight) acrylic abstract canvases believing I was
the first painter ever to do so. With added excitement I also pursued
my fascination with crystallographic stereo tile expanses. See “Apollo
Mandala”, 1972 and the stereoscopic 5’ x 8’ tiled photo mural
based on this painting done in 1973; also: Transpositions;
Homage to Albers; Syncopated
Mondrion; Stellations 1; Flight
Lustre (Combining Color Fields)
addition I produced several paintings that explored the 19th
century concept of “Lustre” (Rood & Dove, 1861) which I radically
employed in my painting, Homage to Albers,
to explore ” binocular mixture” of contrasting optical color fields
that phenomenally occur in the mind when fusing differently situated
stereo paired color motifs. This mental color mixing to me was tantamount
to discovering in 1972, a new spatial color aesthetics beyond the color
pointillism of Seraut and Monet. See Stellations
1, where I utilize paint stereo positions that have the effect
in the mind of “giving off both direct and reflected light” when viewed
stereoscopically. I discuss all of this in detail in the Leonardo article,
On Stereoscopic Painting, pg. 103.
the midst of this excitement and believing I was the first American
painter to paint large stereoscopic canvases, I wrote my 1972
Manifesto to declare publicly the birth of an art of stereoscopic
painting and a new aesthetics. I self published this declaration, distributing
it widely locally and around the country to individuals, museums and
to stereoscopic associations.
Julesz, “Foundatons of Cyclopean Perception” (1971)
Bela Julesz during this period was momentous. His book affected me
profoundly and was timely. Julesz corroborated my pursuit of a new
space aesthetic for the art of painting. It was joyful to free view
his random dot generated graphics with both parallel and cross vision.
Julesz prefigured the commercialization of the random dot stereogram
during the 80’s and 90’s as the computer (computer autostereoscopy)
came into play.
On Stereoscopic Painting (LEONARDO)
on by Dr. Harold Layer, I was encouraged to submit my Manifesto to LEONARDO,
International Journal of the Contemporary Artist. It was accepted and
largely re-written with new illustrations carrying an emphasis on my
paintings. Titled: “On Stereoscopic Painting”
it was published in Vol. 7 No. 2, Spring, 1974, Pergamon Press with
first is more often than not an exercise in self delusion. When, in
1969, with the pencil sketch, “Linear Frieze Studies” and most certainly
with “Transpositions” and “Stellations”
in 1970-72 I thought I had invented (copy right, 1974) what is now
commonly called: “wall eyed stereovision” or the large scale “wall
paper effect.” It was sobering to discover that this phenomenon was
well known and written about (“On The Union of Similar Pictures in Binocular
Vision”) by Sir David Brewster in 1856! It was also a great surprise
to me to find out that in 1972 Edward Trent in England and I were rediscovering
and developing this same idea almost simultaneously. To carry this
a step further, one of my photo stereo students rendered shock therapy
to any notion I was the first ever to paint a large scale stereo paired
fine art canvas by calling my attention to artist-film maker Oscar
Fischinger who created several large cross-vision free view paintings
in 1948 and early 50’s. Salvador Dali, I discovered later was painting
photographically assisted stereo canvases in the early to mid 70’s.
In 1975 I also discovered that New York painter Alphons
Schilling (Binocularis – Galerie Ariadne) began his stereoscopic
drawings and paintings in 1973. It is one thing to work in virtual
geographic isolation with a pregnant idea and another to awaken later
and realize how strangely syncronicity plays it’s hidden role with creation,
coincidence and chance.
Edward H. Trent, Warwickshire, England
Edward Trent’s elegant stereo frieze drawings came to my attention in
1972 when his work appeared in England’s Stereo Bulletin with an illustrated
article titled: “Stereo Designs As An Art Form”. He was at
the time lecturing on metallurgy in the Department of Industrial Metallurgy
at the University of Birmingham. His drawings delighted me and we soon
contacted each other and engaged in correspondence for many years.
Edward Trent and I also began seriously collaborating in 1974 on publishing
a book on this concept. Unfortunately our project had to be abandoned
in the late 70’s due to a family crisis.
had little professional success in the San Francisco Bay Area in developing
Gallery and Museum interest in my work but I had many supporters locally
and around the country. During this period, I drew on strong support
from: Joseph P. Fallon and Earl Krause, Photographic Society of America;
Seaton Rochwite, inventor of the Stereo Realist Camera; Dr. Harold
Layer, Stereo Historian, San Francisco State University; Tom Albright,
San Francisco Chronicle Art Critic (Art In The San Francisco Bay Area
1945-1980), Edward Trent, England; Bernard L. Krause, Parasound; Graham
& Karen Arlen, Oakland; Robert Cameron, renowned international
Photographer; Alistair Cooke; Bill Vandouris, Photographer; Tad Bridenthal,
Sculptor; Nancy Charles Wenderhold, New York, who interviewed stereo
artist’s Pierce Kamke and Alphons Schilling on my behalf. I shall always
be indebted to my wife Roshan Nadimi Arbabi who gave me powerful support
throughout all of this period and in particular during my Sabbatical
journey in Iran.
enjoyed correspondence with many stereo professionals: Pat Whitehead,
Don Jeater, W.C. Dalgoutte, Howard & Pauline Sweezy, Lenny Lipton,
Jerry Lerner, Rudy Bender, Rosemary Jackson, Kenneth Snelson and others.
Manifesto and Leonardo
Journal article would stand as my only public exhibitions during
the 70’s with the exception of a stream of private showings in my studio
a family crisis in the late 70’s, I was soon to be completely preoccupied
with founding and directing an educational cable and microwave television
broadcast network during the 80’s for the Peralta Community College
John Kristoff and Gage Tile International
dream of establishing interior and exterior crystallographic stereoscopic
facades and murals for architecture in the 70’s would lie fallow for
almost 20 years until remarkably in 1994, through Hal Layer I met John
Kristoff who was then associated with Gage Tile International in Wisconsin
and was himself thinking about stereo and the possibility that stereoscopic
tiling would provide a viable new concept for architecture.
followed were a series of computer digitally conceived tiling designs
that I developed for John Kristoff and Gage Tile. Kristoff succeeded
in convincing Gage to produce two large
free vision stereoscopically tiled aluminum wall murals (the first in
the world) each measuring an astonishing eight feet in height by
40 feet in width, representing two designs: one based on my acrylic
painting, Apollo Mandala, 1972 and the
digitally conceived “Moonbase Six”
in 1994. They were first publicly exhibited in San Francisco at the
1994 American Center For Design Conference in the Myako Hotel.
Stereoscopic Architectural Surfaces (Stereo World)
Architectural Surfaces” was published in Stereo World, March April 1995,
Vol. 22 No. 1; reiterating my call again for a stereoscopic aesthetics
to include painting and the application of stereo tiling to architecture.
Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas Nevada
1996 the digital “light conceived” stereoscopic “Moonbase
Six” was converted to a monoscopic tile panel for Gage Tile International.
18,000 sq. ft. of this full color anodized aluminum 24” x 24” conception
was installed into the grand entrance ceiling: The Porte Cochere of
the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas—At 1,149 feet, Stratosphere
is the tallest architectural structure west of the Mississippi River.
Artist In Residence, Gage Tile International
Tile International selected me in 1996 to be their first “Artist In
Residence” and examples of my digital tile designs (both planar and
stereoscopic) appear in their corporate sales catalogue. During this
time, John Kristoff and I formed a business partnership: “Ferragallo
Group, LLC” which has been involved in both tile and stereo lenticular
panoramogram interactive surfaces and textures for architecture, industrial
design and the decorative arts.
with light: the advent of the computer, 1984 – today
with all of the above, the advent of the Personal Computer in 1984 excited
my old dream of “painting with light” and I eagerly began to create
more than 600 stereoscopic “light” paintings, beginning with utilization
of a 286 IBM personal computer. I pressed on with my light paintings
during all of the rapid computer hardware and software advances throughout
the 80’s and 90’s with the 386, 486 and forward to the present time
with Pentium computers. I employed a wide range of software early on
with Dr. Halo, Targa Tips, Rio, Topas, Lumina and more recently with
Ron Scott’s QFX Paint program, Photoshop 5, Poser 4 and Kai’s Tools.
Results of this history and current work can be viewed via my home page
and links found here and on this web site.
©Roger Ferragallo, 11/20/2000