Trompe-L’oeil is an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three dimensions, instead of actually being a two-dimensional painting. Commonly used in Surrealist type art work as well as on large scale murals.A typical trompe-l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room, or a side of a building showing a scene that could likely be there if the building was'nt!

With the superior understanding of perspective drawing achieved in the Renaissance, Italian painters such as Andrea Mantegna and Melozzo da Forlì began painting illusionist ceiling paintings in fresco, which employed perspective and techniques such as foreshortening in order to give the impression of greater space to the viewer below. An amazing version I saw on an email once was on a bathroom floor and depicts a man falling through the sky to the earth that was miles below! The elements in this type of artwork either above or below the viewer are created as if viewed from a true vanishing point perspective.

Similarly, Vittorio Carpaccio and Jacopo de' Barbari added small trompe-l'œil features to their paintings, exploring the boundary between image and reality. For example, a fly might appear to be sitting on the painting's frame, or a curtain might appear to partly conceal the painting, a piece of paper might appear to be attached to a board, or a person might appear to be climbing out of the painting altogether.

Trompe-l’œil can also be found painted on things like tables and other items of furniture, for example, a deck of playing cards or a piece of jewellery might appear to be sitting on the table.

The American 19th century still-life painter William Harnett specialised in trompe-l'œil. In the 20th century, from the 1960s on, the American Richard Haas and many others painted large trompe-l'œil murals on the sides of city buildings, and from beginning of the 1980s when German Artist Rainer Maria Latzke began to combine classical fresco art with contemporary content trompe-l'œil became increasingly popular for interior murals.

Another form of trompe-l’oeil is the genre of body painting where Joanne Gair is an industry leader of this specialist form of art. Her paintings were featured for the tenth consecutive year in the 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She gained iconic status with the ‘Demi's Birthday Suit’, where she painted Demi Moore’s naked body with a business suit. Artist Alexa Meade has also gained recent fame for her "Reverse Trompe-L'oeil" art, in which she ‘creates optical illusion based installations and photographs in the trompe l'oeil style’ from painting the human body to look like 2D oil paintings.  

I have always found this style of art really fascinating and although its far from my speciality; I like to try and incorporate it in my art where I can in the form of spiders or small objects, imaginary rips in the canvas or as if the edge of the canvas is a page that is turning. It adds an extra dimension that I find intriguing and fun to try and achieve.

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Posted: Saturday 1 May 2010


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