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How Represented is Optical Illusion in Art Today?

May 12, 2016
Alias of Ksenija Pantelić

Artists have been intrigued by the nature of perception and the behavior of the eye for many centuries. Different effects used to trick the eye, and the famous illusion art, that saw its beginning in Op art and Kinetic art, aim to confuse the public’s eye and play with our perception of the world around us. The beginning of the optical illusion art for most is traced back to the 1950’s when a number of artists concentrated their practice on the creation of images that would puzzle the public’s perception. Focusing on the investigation into the science of observing, and aided with the blossoming of new technology and psychology, Op art and Kinetic art emerged into the art scene. Investigating movement, both virtual (Op Art) and the possibility of real motion (Kinetic Art), the artists produced works whose importance still lingers. What was once a humble beginning, and possibly one of the more questioned and criticized art movements of our time, is today seen as branching off into many different directions. Numerous contemporary artists today have dedicated their creativity to the creation of the most intricate design patterns, street art and illusionistic paintings and drawings that play with our concept of space, time, and reality.

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Left: Victor Vasarely – Black and White Artwork / Right: Victor Vasarely – Zebra Images via studiano.com

The Beginnings of the Optical Illusion Art are Seen in the Simplicity of Black and White Contrasts

Artists who were interested in investigating various perceptual effects promoted the Op art movement. Typically employing abstract patterns and a high contrast between the foreground and background, the produced works caused great confusion to the eye. The definition of illusion is in fact trickery or bewildering, and the simplistic, black and white, geometrical, and abstract paintings of this art movement, seen to originate from geometrical art and as an abstract branch of Pop art as well, left nobody ambivalent. Major critics, such as Clement Greenberg, opposed the movement, but many designers and artists saw and used the shapes as an inspiration. Playing with the creation of a virtual movement, by the use of the strong contrast, the artists used means that were available to them, and usually, the scope of works is in painting and the drawing medium.

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Left: Panya Clark Espinal – Lost in the Wood. Image via google.rs / Right: Aakash Nihalani – Street Installation. Image via thegcanyon.com

Don’t Believe What You See in the Streets

Today, the rise of technology, and the merge between science, mathematics, and art, is present in almost every example of the contemporary art piece. The interdisciplinary approach to art allows and favors in fact emergence of technology used by artists to push the boundaries of space and perception. The questioning of the ‘real’ space and our existence in the virtual reality is no longer a puzzle for any of us. The virtual space, the Internet Art, the dominance of the computer, is something that is an everyday thing for the young and old. The perception of the world and the world itself is frequently challenged and most artists today focus their practice on pushing the boundaries.

Once seen as an art of the spray can and rebellion, the street art is, in fact, today one of the major art movements. From the simple graffiti works and stencil paintings, street artists today are reinforcing this field. Mastering the 2D, many have also moved into 3D and major cities and streets are often settings for illusionistic art pieces. On many of the street pavements of many different cities, elaborate chalk art, questioning and challenging the perception, is using 3D drawing techniques. Producing street paintings, that are following the 500-year old technique, known as anamorphic art, the images can only be seen in its proper perspective from one specific view. The flat surface of the pavement is in many examples transformed into 3D river banks, caves, furious waterfalls, or edges that prevent our fall into the deep cave, or off the top of an ice glacier.

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Left: Felice Varini – Geometrical Anamorphic Art. Image via pastemagazine. com / Right: Anamorphic Art with Mirror Reflection. Image via imgur.com

The Eye is Not Allowed to Rest

The anamorphic art and the 3D drawings have taken the flat surface of the paper and used it to create immense depth, images that seem to pop out from the page. In fact, the image is still flat, but the positioning and the angle from which the public sees these works is what makes up the work. This is one example, the second would require the use of a mirror, and in this case, the reflection in the mirror would present the image. Apart from the use of the flat surface of the paper or even canvas and the creation of contemporary anamorphic art examples, many different artists are experimenting with actual 3D drawing in space. The newfound freedom of expression for many artists is a dance, a step into the page. What seems to be an illusionistic element here, is that the drawing, almost by magic appears to us on the flat screen of the computer or projection canvas. We don’t get to see the actual mark making on the flat surface but in the air itself.

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Left: Edgar Mueller – The Crevasse / Right: Ramon Bruin – While Sailing Through the Thoughts of My Imagination. Images via pastemagazine.com

The Optical Illusion Art Today Challenges All the Senses

Aided by technology, artists today can challenge almost everything. Space, the time, the body, it seems that nothing is left sacred and safe from experimentation and play, and our perception is constantly frolicked with. Whether taking inspiration from the surrealist paintings, and the magical realism approach of Magritte to create 3D illusionistic paintings that decorate the streets, the buildings or even the human body, the minimalistic Op art, and its heritage influenced the illusionistic art today. The focus of these artists in the past on experimentation, and the collaboration of art and science is what we have to pay homage to. The illusionistic art today, and the play with the perception of the eye, is a major inspiration for artists who are still enjoying to play with the way we see and comprehend the world.

Editors’ Tip: Op Art

If this article tickled your interest towards illusionistic art, then this book is a must. Covering the most influential figures of the Op art movement, such as Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, François Morellet, Julio Le Parc and Gianni Colombo, among others, it provides an in-depth analysis of the movement and its historical precedents. Alongside the amazing illustration, the reader is also provided with the biographies of the artists, essays, and a comprehensive analysis of the art movement that challenged the eye.

All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Sergi Delgado – Artwork. Image via widewalls.com