ARTIST STATEMENT: Stereoscopic Activity: 1966 - Today

Towards a Stereoscopic Aesthetic


As 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.

Photographic Art & Design, Laney College, Oakland

These 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 hyper stereopsis. 

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 introduced them to free view their work with cross vision and encouraged them to freely experiment with exaggerated stereo perspective, infra red light, convex-concave contrapuntal stereopsis and a host of other interesting spatial hybrids.

1966, Total Environment Learning Laboratory (Stereo Component)

During 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. 

The 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.

As 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 midwest 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.

1968, Early ideas on Stereoscopic Painting

As 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 idea. 

1969, Serial & Stacked Stereoscopic (wall-eyed) Crystallographic Expanses

I 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 subjects.   

I 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. 

Sabbatical Year 1970 –71 (Iran & Europe)

This 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 Mosques 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.

1972, Large Scale Acrylic Stereoscopic Canvases

Immediately 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 Mondrian; Stellations 1; Flight and others. 

1972, Lustre (Combining Color Fields)

In 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 Seurat 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.

1972, Nov 12, “A Manifesto Directed to the New Aesthetics of Stereo Space In The Visual Arts and the Art of Painting

In 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.

Bela Julesz, “Foundations of Cyclopean Perception” (1971)

Discovering 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.

1974, On Stereoscopic Painting (LEONARDO)

Urged 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 many illustrations.

On Being First

Being 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 (copyright, 1974) what is now commonly called:  “wall eyed stereovision” or the large scale “wallpaper 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- filmmaker Oskar 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 synchronicity plays its hidden role with creation, coincidence and chance.

1972  Edward H. Trent, Warwickshire, England

Metallurgist 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.

Support  1966-1978

I 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 artists 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.

I 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.

The 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 home.

Following 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 District.

1994, John Kristoff and Gage Tile International

My 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.

What 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.

1995, Stereoscopic Architectural Surfaces (Stereo World)

“Stereoscopic 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.

1996, Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas Nevada

In 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.

1996, Artist In Residence, Gage Tile International

Gage 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.

Painting with light:  the advent of the computer, 1984 – today

Concurrently 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

- All Images are Copyright Roger Ferragallo. Images may not be used without permission of the author -