Friday, September 17, 2010

Felice Varini

Some of my students told me about this artist during our classes about optical illusions. I would love to see one 'in the flesh' as I feel a photo can't quite do them justice. Indeed, me and the students had to look for a while to find a photo taken 'off centre', which then allowed us to realise just how ingenious the works are (I'm not sure whether to call them paintings or maybe urban sculptures?). In a photo taken from the right angle where it all slots into place we are liable to not even realise what is going on. It simply looks like a photo that has had flat shapes drawn on top of it, it is only when we shift our point of view away from the ideal viewing point that we realise that a selection of three-dimensional objects have been painted in such a way that they create the illusion of a two-dimensional shape. This goes against what we tend to expect from illusionistic art, or art that employs single viewing points. more usually they give the illusion that a flat surface, like a canvas or a wall, has depth. Perhaps Varini is having fun inverting this expectation. 
    He is also playing with the visual cues (both leared and innate) that we use to detect depth and form.When viewed in a photo and I would imagine from the correct view point it is virtually impossible to not see the two-dimensional shape created by Varini, it is very hard for us to try and tell our brains to instead see a series of three-dimensional forms that have been painted the same colour. Yet as soon as we shift from the point the shape shatters in many small pieces. This 'breaking' of the illusion is also important, an done reason why photos of the work are problematic, if we do not realise the trick the artist has played we may never appreciate his skill.

APAC Nevers No. 1, 1986

Deux cercles via la rectangle, 1994

Rettangoli gialli concentrici senza angoli al suolo, 1997

All images from

This youtube video goes some way to capturing the experience of moving toward and past the ideal viewing point.


  1. Something similar to the last three pictures with yellow paint was used in, I think, the car park of the Eureka building.

  2. Yes I have seen photos, the up and down signs look like they are levitating. I should go and have a proper look if it is possible.

  3. That's really amazing. Reminds me a bit of the installations along some of Melbourne's freeways (I think the road to Geelong or the airport) where they have the wire artwork that looks like a house when you're at the right angle. Lovely, thanks for sharing. x


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