Saturday, October 03, 2009

Trompe l'oeil

click photo to enlarge
In a recent post I talked about illusions in photography. The art of painting has, of course, revelled in illusions since the time cave-dwellers' daubs were first committed to stone. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, a place that I visited a few times when I lived in the north-west of England, is currently showing an exhibition of Bridget Riley's art. In her well-known "op art" phase during the 1960s she sought to create optical vibrancy and the illusion of movement through very geometric, repetitive designs. Many other painters as disparate in time, place and style as Arcimboldo, Magritte, and Mantegna, have produced works whose intention was to deceive the eye during that moment of initial viewing.

It was probably the Italian Renaissance's discovery of the rules of perspective that instigated the greatest burst of illusionistic painting. Ceilings representing heaven, painted domes incorporating balustrades intended to look real, arms in portraits that "project" out of the frame towards the viewer, windows painted on walls that (from a specific position) appear to be real and show a view outside, and many other such devices were painted with the intention of surprising and delighting the viewer. The term trompe l'oeil (French for "trick the eye") has come to describe these painterly devices.

On a recent visit to Peterborough I saw such a work, clearly an amateur's endeavour, in the window of a Nepalese restaurant. It uses a subject found on many Italian Renaissance frescos; columns, vaulting and paving receding to a centrally placed vanishing point. The perspective isn't quite right in places, but it achieves the desired effect of suggesting depth, distance and scale, and (importantly) drawing the eye of passers-by. What made me photograph it, however, wasn't the artistic conception but the repair job on the cracked window! I don't know whether the damage resulted from an accidental knock, vandalism, or was a stress crack from a badly fitting pane of glass, but the temporary patch with lines of parcel tape gave it another, interesting dimension; as though there was an attempt to prevent the illusion being completely shattered.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 7.9mm (37mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On