|SPECIAL EFFECTS: ILLUSIONS
John Frederick Peto -- The Letter Rack (1885)
René Magritte -- The Return (1940)
In a sense, artists are like magicians, able with their own "bag of tricks" to conjure up or recreate worlds on their
canvases. With illusions of reality or expressions of pure imagination, they are able to create depth and texture
where there really is none, suggest motion with lines that remain still, make us see solid form and volume in the
space of a two-dimensional surface, or create images and relationships that exist no where else. Artists are indeed
the original masters of special effects.
One of the most striking examples of the power of artists to create illusions is in trompe l'oeil painting -- which
means literally painting that "fools the eye". This technique involves such an uncanny degree of realism that the
viewer has the almost irresistible impulse to touch the painted object to make sure that it is not the real thing. This
is inherently appealing and intriguing -- and the pleasure comes with the realization that our "oeil" has indeed been
"trompe'd"! Though centuries old, this art form was particularly well suited to the practical, no nonsense spirit and
old fashioned Yankee ingenuity of 19th century America. One of its finest practitioners was John Frederick Peto,
whose remarkable still life renditions of simple commonplace objects -- arrangements of newspapers, letters,
photos, and books, for example -- have found an enthusiastic audience in this century.
Trompe l'oeil artists like Peto attempted to faithfully recreate what we see in the world around us -- to create the
illusion of reality. Belgian Surrealist René Magritte created illusions of another kind -- not based on reality, but on
the contemplation of the impossible. Often painting with a detailed accuracy to rival trompe l’oeil, Magritte too
depicted everyday objects, people and places -- but in incongruous and often bizarre relationships and situations
that defy rational logic and have more to do with the logic of our dreams. In the world of his paintings, it might rain
men in bowler hats, and a gargantuan apple might fill a room; day and night might compete for the same place and
time, and a mountain might metamorphose into a bird of stone right before our eyes. Magritte attempted to make
the familiar unfamiliar -- something mysterious and enigmatic. In giving concrete form to his imagination, he created
the illusion that the impossible is somehow possible.
In this session of GalleryTime, we explore the magic of illusions.