A famous quote by Hunter S. Thompson goes: “It never got weird enough for me.” Wondering if it’s weird enough for me I thought first define weird: 1. involving the supernatural; 2. fantastic, bizarre. Then define "it": I presume “it” to be the state of the world.
So is the state of the world supernatural enough for me? Well no. Is the state of the world bizarre enough for me? Well, yes indeed it is, especially concerning the widespread resistance to wearing masks. The world is quite strange (and appalling and sad).
Question: What’s an artist to do? Answer: Make it stranger (but less appalling and less sad).
As a gut reaction or an attempt to control something or perhaps a way to encourage myself and others to be flexible and try to see alternative viewpoints, I have been making art inspired by optical illusions. Illusions highlight the fact that depth, color, brightness and shape are not absolute. Past experiences and relational elements contribute to what we see.
“Your brain creates a simulation of the world that may or may not match the real thing.”1
I sure do think that the way some people see the world is a whole lot different than the way I see it and if painting can bring into question our perceptions and expose the fact that darn near nothing is absolute then maybe it can lead to a place of understanding. A stretch, I know.
One of the reasons that optical illusions work is because the eye muscle has limits. Our edge perception tires and gives up. Our neural mechanisms become overexcited. Our eyes jump around. We don’t have the capacity to keep up with all the changes so we create short cuts, fill in blind spots, or just block things out.
My most recent painting, “Vortex with Turbulence,” is not an optical illusion, but it does use some conventions and tricks of illusionists to create a sense of movement and energy. I did this because optical illusions tend to be hard on the eyes and that interferes with beauty. The turbulent part of “Vortex with Turbulence” may not be readily apparent. The turbulence is created by waves that arc in opposing directions. Can you see it? I plan on making another painting "Vortex without Turbulence," and when seen side by side turbulence will be more readily apparent.
- Martinez-Conde, Susana and Macknik, Stephen (2017). Champions of Illusion Pg 3. Scientific American New York 2017