Brush Work

http://www.illusion-art.com/winslow.asp

Near a streetcorner in Winslow, Ariz., trompe l’oeil artist John Pugh has painted six windows. On an upper sill perches an eagle, and in the lower windows is reflected a girl in a flatbed Ford — presumably slowing down.

http://www.illusion-art.com/taylor.asp

In 1980 Pugh received a commission from his alma mater, California State University, Chico, to paint a mural on the side of Taylor Hall. Shortly after its completion, a woman who worked across the street called the administration to ask when the wall would be repaired.

http://www.illusion-art.com/cafeimg.asp

With his mural Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life at San Jose’s Cafe Espresso, Pugh created a convincing extension of the restaurant’s interior. Everything within the brick proscenium — the alcove, sculpture, painting, stairway, cat, and woman — was painted by hand.

After the mural was completed in February 1997, a male patron tried to introduce himself to the woman and complained to a manager that she was giving him the “silent treatment.”

In the Wings

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Procession_of_Characters_from_Shakespeare%27s_Plays_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

When did Shakespeare’s plays come into existence? We tend to think they appeared when he conceived them.

But if God is omniscient, then he has perfect knowledge of the future. Before the creation, he knew that Shakespeare would compose the plays, and he knew the full text of each one.

“A consequence of the view that God knows everything about the future is that all compositions existed before creation,” writes philosopher Richard R. La Croix.

In this sense, “the coming into existence of any composition is an event which occurs prior to the events that cause it to occur” — and, in each case, an effect precedes its cause.

The Makapansgat Pebble

makapansgat pebble

Nearly 3 million years ago, an ancestor of modern humans picked this pebble out of a slow-flowing stream in southern Africa and carried it at least 4 kilometers to a cave, where it was discovered by Wilfred Eizman in 1925.

Why would the creature have done this? Possibly because it recognized a face in the natural markings on the pebble’s surface. If so, this is the earliest evidence of an aesthetic sense in human heritage.

High Praise

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USA_by_John_Haberle.jpg

John Haberle’s 1889 trompe l’oeil masterpiece U.S.A. was such a faithful representation of a U.S. greenback that one could read the ironic government warning on the bill:

“Counterfeiting, or altering this note, or passing any counterfeit or alteration of it, or having in possession any false or counterfeit plate or impression of it, or any paper made in imitation of the paper on which it is printed, is punishable by $5000 fine or 15 years at hard labor or both.”

More than one viewer took it for an actual bill. When the painting was installed at the Art Institute of Chicago, the art critic of The Chicago Inter-Ocean objected: “There is a fraud hanging on the Institute walls. … It is that alleged still life by Haberle [in which] a $1 bill and the fragments of a $10 note have been pasted on canvas. … That the management of the Art Institute should hang this kind of ‘art’ even though it were genuine, is to be regretted, but to lend itself to such a fraud … is shameful.”

Haberle immediately took a train to Chicago and stood by while experts scrutinized the work through lenses, rubbed off paint, and declared it a genuine work of imitative art. The critic issued a public apology, acknowledging that others, including “Eastman Johnson, the dean of American figure and genre painters”, had also been taken in by Haberle’s works.

The Lion at Bay

sutherland churchill portrait

Winston Churchill faced an awkward moment in 1954, when Parliament unveiled a portrait on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The ceremony took place before a crowded Westminster Hall, and no one present, one observer said, “will forget the idiosyncratic nonsound with which a thousand people stopped breathing when the canvas was revealed.”

The painting, by Graham Sutherland, was a decidedly modern take on the octogenarian statesman. “Its chief defect was that it looked unfinished in as much as his feet were concealed in a carpet that seemed to have sprouted a dun-coloured grass,” wrote Studio editor G.S. Whittet. “The artist had obviously been unhappy about them and they had been painted over since it would have been impossible to ‘cut off’ his legs below the knees without radically altering the proportions and placing of the picture on the canvas.”

One MP called the portrait “a study in lumbago,” and Lord Hailsham said it was “disgusting, ill-mannered, terrible.” Churchill accepted the gift with a measured good humor, but privately he muttered, “It makes me look half-witted, which I ain’t.” After the unveiling, the painting was never seen again — shortly before Churchill’s death, his wife had it cut up and burned.

See Immortalized.

A Satisfied Critic

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Haberle_Grandmas_Hearthstone.jpg

This is Grandma’s Hearthstone, an 1890 canvas by the trompe l’oeil master John Haberle. The 96″ x 66″ painting was so realistic that the proprietors of Churchill’s Saloon in Detroit decided to try an experiment.

“The location of the picture adds to the realistic effect,” explained the Detroit Tribune. “It is arranged at a dark end of the room, with electric light turned upon it in such a manner that upon entering the place it seems as if there really were an old-fashioned fire place there and the light was the reflection of the fire.”

Did it work? “The best critic upon the picture was the house cat. When the picture was first placed in position the cat came up from the cellar and started across the room. … The cat noticed the light of the blazing fire and went over to examine it. After critically scrutinizing the new affair she curled herself up before it and began to snooze completely illusionized.”

Whether that’s true is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it says more about the cat than about Haberle.

(“It Fooled the Cat,” New Haven Evening Leader, June 10, 1893, quoted in James W. Cook, The Arts of Deception: Playing With Fraud in the Age of Barnum, 2001.)

Ghosts of New York

http://richardhaas.com/section/308205_Shadow_of_the_Singer_Building_Near_the.html

Muralist Richard Haas had a romantic notion in 1975 — he proposed painting the shadows of vanished Manhattan architectural landmarks on the city’s modern buildings.

Above, the Singer building, built in 1908 and destroyed in 1967, was briefly the world’s tallest; Haas would have restored its shadow near its former site at 149 Broadway.

He also proposed restoring the shadows of St. John’s Church, on Varick Street below Canal, and the tower of Madison Square Garden, which once stood on the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue.

Alas, the project never went forward.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:High_Water_Mark_from_Gettysburg.PNG

In 1883 French artist Paul Philippoteaux unveiled a remarkable painting: The Battle of Gettysburg, a single enormous canvas 22 feet high and 279 feet long that was curved into a circle so that the viewer found himself in the midst of Pickett’s Charge, the climactic assault of the Civil War.

“It is quite impossible to describe the effect which is received on first coming up out of the little passage into the midst of the picture,” marveled the Daily Transcript. “It is something as it would seem were one to become of a sudden a part of the picture. … In short, one feels quite helpless and wondering in the midst of this new and extraordinary nature. It would seem as though all these queer impressions might be at once met and settled by the simple consideration of the fact that it was only a picture. But that is just it; it is impossible to accept the thing as a picture. Not because it is absolutely natural, but because there is nothing by which to gauge the thing, one has no idea whether the canvas is ten feet distant or a thousand. And so, all means of rational judgement being removed, the spectator must remain, dazed and helpless, feeling much like the little girl in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ when told that she was but a thing in the dream of the sleeping king.”

Philippoteaux added a hidden signature: He gave his own likeness to one of the Union officers.

Full Credit

What Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) lacked in compositional talent he made up in imagination and a wry sense of humor. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1897), for example, is entirely blank.

Allais’ entries in Jules Lévy’s expositions of “Incoherent Art” — dedicated to the works of “people who do not know how to draw” — included a white rectangle titled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in a Snowstorm. He followed this with a red rectangle titled Tomato Harvest on the Shore of the Red Sea, by Apoplectic Cardinals.

“There was also ‘sculpture’ with the punning title ‘Terre cuite (Pomme de),” writes Steven Moore Whiting in Satie the Bohemian. “Terre cuite by itself means terracotta; with the parenthetical qualifier, the title becomes ‘Baked Potato.'”