"When Mr. Albers first saw them (Hal's colour theory) he
asked me, “Are you a mystic?” This puzzled me and I
replied, “I don’t understand. I am trying to do with color
what Rembrandt did with chiaroscuro. I am trying to
paint the equivalent of the feelings in minor key liturgical
music”. He looked at me quizzically and I impulsively
said, “I’m trying to paint visual poetry.” He then said.
“Ah. But poetry is mystic.”
Seymour Hal Rogoff
About The Wizard...
"Called by critics a 'color theorist,' 'communications expert,' and 'The Wizard of Op'" The
Park Forest Star, May 11, 1969 Hal became the first artist to successfully paint with the
concept of color as light energy. His hard-edge geometric artwork is aesthetically
appealing and demonstrates and corrects many color principles. Hal hoped to provide a
road-map from which future artists can master the visual language.
Semour Hal Rogoff
After seeing DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Renoir’s “Fruits of the Midi”
Seymour was hooked. Upon leaving the military, he began studying art
at the University of Illinois. He asked his teachers how the
Impressionists achieved such color and was told they painted with the
concept of color as scintillating atmosphere. His response, which has
since become his mantra was, “Color is light. Light is energy. Energy is
power. I want to put the power of that energy on canvas.” In his junior
year, Seymour was voted the most outstanding student in the
University of Illinois art school. That same year, after realizing that
many aspects of how he saw color differed from what he had been
taught and what was in the text books, he collaborated with a
classmate in the journalism school on an experiment to see how the
eye reads a newspaper and a work of art. Without realizing it, these
experiments gave him the insight he would later use to make a number
of discoveries regarding the nature of human color perception. It was
also while at the U of I that he began going by the name Hal in order to
avoid confusion caused by another artist with a similar name.
Seymour served 1st Army during the Battle of the Bulge as a scout in the 18th Cavalry
Reconnaissance Squadron Mechanized. Even amidst combat his intelligence and
creativity stood out. His unconventional survival solutions caused his comrades to tell
incoming replacements to watch Seymour and copy what he did if they wanted to stay
alive. In a foxhole, while being shelled, Seymour prayed to God asking, “What is my
life’s purpose?” Almost immediately, the thought came, “God puts His creativity into the
world through the unique creative talents He gives to all people.” Concluding his
purpose in life was to pursue his most creative talent he prayed, “God put my feet on
the right path. Put up the signposts and I will follow.” From that moment, he dedicated
his life to this commitment. The signposts came quickly, including being billeted less
than a 5 minute walk from where Monet painted “The Beach of Etratat” and
unexpected opportunities to visit the major art museums in London and the Louvre.
Upon graduating from Illinois with a BS after just 3 years, Hal’s instructors recommended he continue his studies with
Josef Albers at Yale. At that time, Yale had a strict quota on Jews and Hal’s friends and family felt applying would be a
waste of time. Hal decided he had nothing to lose and Albers accepted him solely on the strength of his grades and
work samples without the intensive interview he gave all incoming art students, on the condition he complete his senior
year and earn his BFA. Another signpost.
When Albers saw the work Hal started upon arriving at Yale he inquired, “Are you a
mystic?” Hal replied, “I don’t understand. I am trying to do with color what
Rembrandt did with chiaroscuro. I am trying to paint the equivalent of the feelings in
minor key liturgical music”. Albers gave Hal a quizzical look and Hal impulsively said,
“I’m trying to paint visual poetry.” Albers’ reply: “Ah. But poetry is mystic.” After
taking Albers’ now famous color course, Hal had the tools he needed to explore the
questions arising from his experiments at Illinois. Albers originally rejected Hal’s
graduate application on the grounds it was too theoretical. However, Hal’s
determination to find answers to his questions resulted very quickly in discoveries
that not only caused Albers to accept Hal but also to make him his graduate
assistant. They even caused Albers to change the color orientation in his own work.
Upon accepting Hal, Albers commented that he was to “set a good pace” for next
year’s class. Hal took this to heart and during the following year he developed the
basic concepts which define all perceptual distortion and illusion along with many
new color principles. Years later, many of these concepts were incorporated into
Albers’ book “The Interaction of Color” and formed the foundation of the colored Op
Art movement. Beyond art, these very principles are the ones scientists and
engineers used to create color television. They also caused highway safety marker
colors to be changed from yellow to the present day orange (see Peripheral Pulse),
improving visibility and saving countless lives.
Beyond the canvas, a random coincidence had a profound impact on Hal’s life and his
view of the world. One day while passing a lecture hall, Hal became intrigued by the
lecturer and decided to stop in and listen. The lecturer was none other than R.
Buckminster Fuller, or as he preferred Bucky, and he was describing his octet truss.
Bucky’s way of speaking was very specific but also very complex and overwhelming
for most people...but not for Hal. He quickly and instinctively broke down each large
word to its essence and grasped the whole...except for one part. So after the
lecture, he went up and asked Bucky to explain the part he didn’t understand, the
nature of a hydraulic lift. This is a fundamental engineering concept, and had Hal
known, it was a very naive question. However, Bucky is noted for saying “Dare to be
naive” and must have gotten a glimpse into Hal’s intellect and inquisitive nature.
Whatever he saw, Bucky took an immediate liking to Hal and they struck up a fast
friendship. For the remainder of that year, the two met for lunch weekly. Other
students and faculty would join them from time to time, but no one could keep up
Another Bucky quote that really defined Hal’s approach to life is “The things to do
are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one
else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing
that which needs to be done -- that no one else has told you to do or how to do it.
This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has
acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the
Unfortunately, after such a promising beginning Hal’s professional career was impeded by illness. His service during WWII
significantly wore down his immune system and strained his back in ways that came back to haunt him. Despite these
troubles, his work has exhibited throughout the mid-west, and he has taught and lectured at many art schools and art
centers in the greater Chicago and North West Indiana area. When limited range of motion restricted his ability to create
new works of art, he began doing art restoration. Once again his knowledge, training, and creativity elevated him to a
world class level. Although bed-ridden for many years, Hal kept on exploring color perception. He was determined to live a
happy, joyful life. Much like Willy Wonka, he lived in a private world of pure imagination, although in his case it was a world
of color rather than candy. And much like Tevya, he was a very rich man in all the ways that truly matter.
December 30, 1925 Isadore and Bertha Rogoff
gave birth to their first child, Seymour Harold
Rogoff. They each brought strong pedigrees to
this union. Isadore was the first businessman
in the family after 9 generations of rabbis. He
himself had been in rabbinical school in Vilna
(now Vilnius) before coming to America. Bertha
was a direct descendent of Rabbi Yisroel ben
Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of
Hasidic Judaism. Bertha was also a first
generation immigrant, coming from a small
town near Vienna, and very bright in her own
right. She was fluent in at least 6 languages
by the time she reached U.S. shores at the
age of 13. However, her road to this country
had been very hard. Seymour, and his younger
sister Nancy, inherited a wealth of culture,
intelligence, creativity, talent, and fortitude
from their parents. However, despite these
inherent abilities, Seymour’s life had a difficult
beginning. The 3 driving forces that forged
who he would become were his mother’s
perception of life, the Great Depression and
serving in WWII.
While doing graduate work at Yale, Rogoff presented a color principle, now known as contrast reversal with color
study 'Yellow Diamonds'-1952 published in Josef Albers' book 'The Interaction of Color'