Friday, March 26, 2010

10 great places to play a trick on the eye

What better way to celebrate April Fool's Day than by viewing trompe l'oeil, the artistic style that is French for "tricks the eye"? Ancient Greek artists were some of the earliest to play with perspective and create illusions. "People have always enjoyed being tricked," says Kevin Bruce, author of The Murals of John Pugh: Beyond Trompe l'Oeil (Ten Speed Press, $35). He shares his favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Mana Nalu Mural Project

401 Kamake'e St., Honolulu

Bruce calls artist John Pugh "the da Vinci of trompe l'oeil." This mural, which means "spirit of the wave" in Hawaiian, shows Hawaii's last queen, Liliuokalani, and surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. "The work is masterful, and you also learn something," Bruce says. A group of children, painted at the base of the four-story mural, appear so realistic that the fire department supposedly once rushed to rescue them.

Jesuit Church

The Catholic Church knew the appeal of trompe l'oeil and used it liberally during the Baroque period. Bruce likes the work of Andrea Pozzo, who started with a simple barrel-vaulted ceiling and added a magnificent faux dome. The only hint that it's not real is that light can't enter the non-existent windows painted at the top. "It really does trick the eye, and it's really good stuff," Bruce says.

The Staircase Group

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

This painting is said to have fooled George Washington, who said hello as he passed two boys on a staircase. Except, of course, the boys weren't there, and neither was the staircase. The painting does protrude at the bottom with what appears to be the first step. "It's the first instance of trompe l'oeil moving over to the New World," Bruce says. 215-763-8100;

Various buildings

Portofino, Italy

Trompe l'oeil isn't just limited to paintings or murals. Whole towns have embraced the art form. For centuries, buildings in Portofino have sported architectural flourishes that are nothing more than paint. "Even the church up on the hill looks like it's built from stone, but it's not," Bruce says.

The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco

The famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera wasn't above a little trickery. This piece shows the construction of a skyscraper, with architects, engineers, businessman and laborers all at work. There's also a muralist, probably Rivera himself, sitting on scaffolding with his back to the viewer. "It's a mural within a mural showing the builders of America," Bruce says. 415-771-7020;

Trompe l'Oeil With Writing Materials

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Edward Collier's 1702 easel painting looks so convincing, you'll want to reach out and grab the papers that appear to be hanging on the wall. Not so fast: It's all fake. "A classic," Bruce says. "The images are life-size and realistic."

Centre Theatre


With a bit of paint and imagination, artist Richard Haas transformed a blank brick wall into an illusion. His mural creates a 12-story art-deco facade, which appears to show the reflection of neighboring buildings, including some torn down years ago. "It's very deceptive," Bruce says.
Various sites

Lyon, France

In the 1970s, a group of students decided to perk up their city with murals. Now Lyon is known worldwide for its public art. "It literally is a city of murals," Bruce says. "You can spend all day looking around." Many of the paintings are trompe l'oeil— Bruce likes one that shows customers lining up at a fake ATM.


Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA, N.Y.

Trompe l'oeil is a people's art, as demonstrated by this mural at an outlet center. "It's on the wall of a mall, but the artist has taken it and stuck Niagara Falls in there," Bruce says. 800-414-0475;

Study With Sphere & Water
Student Center, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Fla.

Artist John Pugh created an illusionary library alcove at the University of North Florida's student center. There's a painted skylight, ivy seems to hang from a planter, and a scientific sphere appears to jut into the room. "A kid up on the library ladder is pulling down Immanuel Kant, which is probably the hardest book anyone would read in college," Bruce says. 904-620-1000;



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