Ideas Made of Light

Posts Tagged ‘illusion’

#38: Gala Contemplating… by Salvador Dali

In 1992 I was just starting graduate school in visual perception. One of the things they showed us in our first days was this painting by Salvador Dali. The professor showed it on a slide projector, and asked us what it was. Of course, we all described the woman looking through the window. With a flourish, he spun the focus on the slide projector’s lens, and we suddenly saw something else – Abraham Lincoln as seen on the U.S. $5 bill.

Today we’re used to seeing things like photomosaics that take lots of individual photographs, shrink them, and put them together to create a completely different picture. It’s the same principle at work here, but Dali did this in 1976. How did he do it without computers to do all the figuring for him? Even more, how did he do it while at the same time creating a painting that follows principles of composition, the golden section, and values to create a painting that works whether it’s blurred or not? That’s what we’ll look at in this analysis, and we’ll wrap it up with lessons that apply to all painting, not just tricks or optical illusions.

Continue Reading...

#25: Relativity by M. C. Escher

Man, I love M. C. Escher’s stuff! I know I’m hardly alone in that, but I thought I’d get it out of the way right in the beginning. And Relativity is one of my favorites. A few years back the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC had a showing of Escher’s work. Something that really caught me by surprise was how much you could see on the actual pieces that doesn’t show up even in the good quality, coffee table books of Escher’s work. Sure, he’s known for the perspective tricks, tessellation, and space warping, but he’s also a darn good artist and draftsman. I love Relativity because of the wonder and imagination, but it’s also a great example of things like lighting and defining mass and form. We’ll look at all of these things in this analysis.

Continue Reading...

#16: The Blank Check, by René Magritte

I suppose I’m dating myself, but I first saw a version of Le blanc-seing (The Blank Check) as the cover for the Styx album “The Grand Illusion” years before I read Understanding Comics. For this picture Magritte is playing with perception and the techniques we use all the time as illustrators. It’s a classic case of knowing the rules of perception well enough to know just how to break them. The two principles he plays with the most are occlusion and closure. (See the Leyendecker analysis for more on closure.)

Continue Reading...