Thursday 13 April 2017
Now You See it, Now You Don’t
Speaker: Bertie Pearce


Bertie Pearce treated us to an entertaining talk about the art of visual deception ranging from the Romans to the modern world of street painting by Banksy.  He stated that, in the same way as magic enthrals us as children so optical illusions in art entertain us as adults. He showed us that the Romans stretched and distorted perspectives as seen in Andrea Pozzo’s “Vault in the Nave of Saint Ignazio, Rome.” The monks would not allow a second storey to be built so one was painted on the ceiling to give the illusion of another storey!



Surrealism is another form of illusory art and we were shown various paintings by Rene Magritte including “The Human Condition” where ambiguous imagery allows some to see a plane flying past the window in the sky and others see an artist’s easel. Curtains are evident in this picture and Bertie emphasised that they are a recurring motif as they can hide objects or people and the viewer wants to see behind them.

The most extreme version of illusion is Trompe L’Oeil and Edward Collier’s painting of a letter rack shows unopened letters and newspapers that look so realistic that, apparently, people tried to take the objects out of the rack where it was displayed on a cruise ship! Anamorphic art which is closely related to Trompe L’Oeil was revitalised by Salvador Dali and showed how fascinated he was by hidden imagery. It camouflages heretical ideas and dangerous political statements. Other famous paintings were included in the talk such as Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” with the distorted skull and Hogarth’s “Perspective Absurdities.”

In the 1960’s there was a growing number of abstract painters such as Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley who use the repetition of simple colours and forms to create a vibrating effect, confusion and visual phenomena. Social media brought changes and Banksy realised that when people shared so much of their lives through the internet, mystique vanished. His stencils, which he secretly completes in public places, have an innate and pithy humour such as the on a wall where he depicts a lady being attacked by an A.T.M machine! He makes political statements too such as in his depiction of an Israeli soldier being patted down by a small girl. He even takes classical paintings such as one of ballet dancers by Degas and paints Simon Cowell into the scene!

This enthralling talk was concluded with a magic trick involving the audience as Bertie argued that Theatre Magic is the ultimate illusion of using perspective, colour and design to shrink, conceal and disappear!