Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Mutual Consent, or "Reality" Part II
The entire above image is actually a mural, painted by John Pugh.
“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” --Rene Magritte
Portrait of Magritte by Lothar Wolleh.
Trompe l'oeil: French phrase meaning “trick the eye.”
Zeuxis was an ancient Greek painter, (b. 464 BC) who was rumored to have died laughing at a painting he himself had made of a funny old woman. “The woman had ordered a painting of Aphrodite and demanded that she was used as his model.” (Wikipedia) His paintings were so good they were believed to trick nature itself into thinking they were "life"-- so here he had created something real yet too bizarre to be real, and in this (surely) myth, he exploded from the dissonance between logic and what was physically "there." In Pliny's Natural History, the author reported that there was a competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasius to decide who would be named the better painter. “When Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, they appeared so luscious and inviting that birds flew down from the sky to peck at them. Zeuxis then asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting, only for Parrhasius to reveal the curtain itself was a painting, and Zeuxis was forced to concede defeat. Zeuxis is rumoured to have said: 'I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.'” (Wikipedia)
So begins the story of the trompe l'oiel in art, though the phrase itself didn't come to be used to describe it until the Baroque period in art. As an example from the Baroque period, here is the ceiling of a Jesuit church in Vienna with only a slightly curved ceiling, which was painted by Andrea Pozzo to look like a fantastic domed roof:
Vienna Church ceiling (Andrea Pozzo)
And again in Rome, a ceiling fresco:
Here, the ceiling soars up towards God, far beyond its “actual” reach. Physically speaking.
According to Professor Lois Parkinson Zamora of the University of Houston,
“Artistic devices of spatial illusion were developed in Europe during the seventeenth-century—the century of the style we now refer to as Baroque—in response to cultural anxieties occasioned by revolutionary scientific discoveries, revolutionary religious upheaval, also by the new taste for virtuosic visual display. The authority of perception was being undermined, and Baroque artists responded accordingly—and often fantastically—with structures intended to deceive the eye...”
The 16th and 17th centuries were the period we now refer to as The Scientific Revolution," beginning with Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus' "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres." The sun became the center of the solar system, replacing the Earth. Replacing "us" as the center of the universe, the point of it. Andreas Vesalius' "On the Fabric of the Human body" was another of the harbingers of modern scientific thought; he made many corrections to previous erroneous beliefs about the human skeletal system, the circulatory system, and the nervous system. Both works were published in 1543. The steam engine was developed, and in 1672, electricity was created by a man and his machine.
As a result of the immense changes in his society's understanding of the world, in 1611, the poet John Dunne wrote:
"[The] new Philosophy calls all in doubt,
The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it."
Visual artists, as well, were apparently quite affected, and the trompe l'oeil became very popular during this period as a method to show how the eye could be "tricked" by what it saw-- how it might "see" what was not really there.
Someone who has used the trompe l'oiel to great philosophical and magical effect is contemporary artist Rob Gonsalves. But he tries less to deceive the eye and more to free the limits of our perspective, to help us "see" what we only dream of, and therefor to move our dreams a step closer to reality. Rob Gonsalves describes here the development of his style of painting. I have inserted images where I felt they would appropriately illustrate his words:
“Much of my free time in childhood was spent daydreaming and drawing. Usually the subject would be an imagined place. For me, the greatest joy in drawing came from giving form to something that had previously only existed in my head. Gradually, my drawings came to be influenced by another aspect of my personality: my strong aptitude for mathematics. Buildings became my main subject...
In my teenage years my interests shifted more towards the realms of surrealism, symbolism, and fantasy in art, literature, and even music. The emphasis on the subconscious and imagination intrigued me and pointed the way for the first handful of paintings that I was to produce. These images were dreamlike and enigmatic in the manner typical of surrealism. I did not at this point have the confidence to consider painting to be a career path that I could realistically pursue. My painting activities were essentially put on hold as I studied architecture and worked for some years in that business...
As I began painting again I felt the need to make the dreamlike, magical occurrences depicted seem more concrete, as if they could be experienced in the physical world. My first introduction to the work of Magritte helped to crystalize for me the direction that my work was to take. His work 'The Human Condition' has a magical effect while being at the same time a straightforwardly realistic image. I had wanted to affirm that magical and wondrous experiences are not confined to the realm of dreams or the subconscious, but rather can be derived from our experience and conscious interpretation of the physical world. Magritte's 'magical realism' helped me to see how I could achieve this....”
The Human Condition
Note how Magritte's painting reminds of the story of Parrhasius' victory, with curtains pulled wide to display the lovely view from a window, both curtains and window actually a painting... within a painting... I think his painting “Attempting the Impossible also fits here:
Attempting the Impossible
La Reproducion Interdite
“Frequently, the desire to express the wonder of imagination is manifested as images depicting children at play. The magical transformation in such images illustrates what is happening in the minds of the characters depicted, who are so absorbed by their activity that what is imagined seems to become real. Often these images will involve the type of illusion device that suggests an impossible (yet convincing) change of scale.”
“Other sources of inspiration for my images can be found in the various dualities that can be observed in life experience: natural vs. human made, urban vs. rural, light vs. dark, material vs. spiritual, etc. The images that are rooted in these concepts usually employ the device of a metamorphosis from one element to another.”
Natural vs. Human Made:
Here, the sense of peace is created both by the natural setting and by the careful attention the people who live their give that setting. The way they have interacted with their environment is what creates their magical ability (to walk on water).
and The Woods Within:
Here, the feeling of home is combined with the protective arm of nature. The family communes with nature and with each other, the home is not separate from the materials and spirit which created it.
Light vs. Dark:
Ladies of the Lake
Material vs. Spiritual:
The Light of a Late Night
(Note that the skyscrapers, typical emblems of material wealth and successful society, can also be seen as statues of ancient gods and goddesses, kings or queens...)
“...the techniques of optical illusion in my work are utilized somewhat intuitively. The devices that I use are generated perhaps less scientifically than in the work of artists whose primary concern is the creation of optical illusions for their own sake. For me, the particular subject depicted and its emotional impact is crucial; the illusions are a means to an end and must serve the objectives of the overall conception of the image.”
Here, the woman appears guarded over by monks, or representatives of God; they are illusions created by the shape of the clouds in the heavens and the frame of man-made architecture. The “sense” of a beneficent power watching over you is created.
A video of Rene Magritte's works, set to the gently mysterious music of Thomas Newman by DistantMirrors is here:
her video of Rob Gonsalves' works is here:
”There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” --Aldous Huxley
Julian Beever (A flat image drawn on the sidewalk with chalk)