Just an Illusion

I had listened to an old 1982 video and putting it on my family blog to illustrate an experience I was writing about when it gave me an idea for a post on echostains!  The music video is by ‘Imagination’ and it’s called ‘Just an Illusion’ (I’d forgotten how good they were:))  Then I thought of artists who use illusion in their work.

The Hallucinogenic Torreador 1969

The first artist I thought of was Salvador Dali.  He liked to slip hidden images into his work.   They usually take the form of faces, figures and sometimes animals.  The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968 -1970) has all three.  By combining surrealist symbolism with optical illusion Dali creates his own visual language.  The scene set in a bull ring includes a portrait of Gala his wife, a  bulls head either drinking from water or in its own blood.  The pool of water (or blood) in the lower right of the picture shows a yellow raft. Lots of dreamlike symbols in this painting to be found.

zebras 1938 Vasarely

The constructivist practises in Walter Gropius Bauhaus school in Germany invented ‘Op art’.  The term made its way into Times magazine for the first time in 1964 though Victor Vasarely (b. 1908 – 1997 Hungary) had painted his famous zebras in 1938 (there are quite a few versions of this).  Theres a biography of this wonderful artist, who people call the Father of Op Art here


Bridget Riley is famous for her Op Art.  Optical art makes use of illusions.  The works are abstract and play with our perceptions.  Lots of warping, swirling, bending and movement are the keynotes to this type of art.

Bridget Riley Squares

Bridget Riley ( b. 1931 London) has been celebrated for her contribution to optical art.  Her paintings are vibrant and challenge the viewers perceptions.  this is what she said about one of her paintings

‘the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift…One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.’

I have seen quite a bit of Riley’s work, which although I admire it immensely – always make me feel a bit giddy or ‘seasick’ especially when seen en masse 🙂  Optical illusions are still going strong.  I particularly like this one of Jesus.  You stare and stare at the image then look at a blank wall, or sheet of paper.  Jesus appears like a ghost!  I got the image from this excellent site thanks!

jesus Optical image

Thanks to mmusicool for the video!

Dali Hallucenegenic Torredor image from here read about it here

Vasarely images from here  and here Riley Squares image from here and her quote from here

Theres a wonderful Optical Illusion website here – with some very unusual optics…:) HERE



The Mona Lisa Poetry Challenge is still on my other blog Bookstains and open to all!  Just click Mona

19 thoughts on “Just an Illusion

  1. Hi Lynda. My head is swirling a bit after moving on from Dali to those wonderful Zebras and then some. But I do like this sort of visual play very much. Our ability to change our visual perception in order to ‘see’ again and what’s ‘hidden’, hopefully indicaates a sign of our potential ability to change, evolve, and transform our thoughts and behaviors too. Hmm..oh the places we can go when art leads the ways…

    1. Good comment 47whitebuffalo! There may be hope for us yet. If we can shift our perspective visually, why can’t we do this mentally with some issues? I love those zebras – very clever indeed:)

  2. I used to love Bridget Riley’s work, even went to an exhibition of hers (in the late sixties or early seventies, I think) but these days these optical illusions bring on Migraines, so I tend to avoid them. There’s no doubting their appeal though – they are brilliantly done!

    Some of my own work relies on optical illusions, but much of it just sort of happens by itself and all I do is make sure that others can see some of what I can see. I used to do pencil drawings that had different imagery in them depending upon the viewing distance. For instance, one of them had an elephant head that became visible if standing a few feet from the work, then much closer up there was a woman lying with her arm hanging over an edge.

    Is it just me, or does anyone see Che Guevara in the ‘Jesus’ one?!

    1. Heheh can’t see Che Guevara but can see two men(? ) one has a green tie on. I love art with hidden images! I shall have a look through yours again Val;) I did an abstract painting once and magnified bits of it and did paintings of the magnified bits…this went on and on. It was called ‘Bottom left hand corner’ or something. It was based on Leonardo’s and Ernsts woodgrains frottages.
      The sixties was probably the right time to see the Bridget Riley’s too – they would have been so sensational! Today with technology as it is – we are not easily wowed, sadly.

  3. Most all of painting is an illusion. Wasn’t the great 20th century breakthrough a realization that a canvas is a three dimensional object and that whatever was scrubbed across its surface was subject to its own reality? When that finally sank in at art school, it was an Ah-ha! moment for me. I’m kind of with Val on this one, however, I’m not seeing Jesus or Che (interesting in its own right too), but something like the face on those fancy cigarette rolling papers!!

    1. I can’t see that Al – but its interesting that people are seeing different things isnt it:) Ways of seeing eh (I have that book by John Berger) and ‘Secret Knowledge’ by David Hockney. i remember a (not exactly an Ah;ha moment, more of a sobbing sound and a retort of disbelief) when Hockneys book was discussed.
      His claims about famous artists using the camera obscura and lucida as an aid was met with stunned silence and some tears. Some young students were so disillusioned you would think that someone told them Father Chrismas didn’t exist (as if…)

  4. I have Hockney’s book and he came to Louisville to help promote it. I believe he is spot on. When you look at the small portrait profile drawings many of the 15th and 16th century masters were doing…they are much more accurate than many of their paintings. What could account for this? It wouldn’t surprise me that this might have been a part of the secret knowledge required to become a member of the Guild of St. Luke. Artists frequently employed whatever technologies were available to help them be better artists particularly if it involved an optical aid of some kind.

  5. Wow you saw Hockney in Louisville Al? Its a great book and it caused loads and loads of controversy when it came out. Like the artists had ‘cheated’ in some way! When I was doing a transcription of a Paula Rego painting it was necessary to draw that picture lots and lots of times (in order to change it in some way), so I traced my original drawing. Some in the class thought that was ‘cheating’, but I was told by my tutor that that was art practise. You couldn’t be expectd to draw the same thing over and over and it be accurate each time. Plus all tracings were from MY original drawing. I see nothing wrong in using aids now, so why should Vermeer or Holbein or Caravagio be any different.
    I bet you’re right about the Guild of St Luke too, I bet all members had a camera lucida as part of their kit:)

  6. Artists and magicians are one and the same. Hockney’s crime was that he let the public glimpse behind the curtain. I remember the outcry, but never truly felt it was justified.

  7. Hheh yes! I wrote an essay about the artist as magician! Its on here somewhere. He illustrates his case for the optical tools very well in the book too. I guess people don’y like to see the ‘strings’ eh. I don’t know what I’d do if people found out that I have to use a ruler to draw a straight line…….:D

  8. I like to joke around that I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!! So, in my eyes you are very talented!!!

  9. thank you for introducing me to these great artists
    optical illusion is really cool
    got to find and appreciate that ‘thing’
    behind what it originally seems.
    much like another being

    1. Thank YOU for visiting bendedspoon and making such a good comment which is very tue! We need to look beneath the surface more and decipher whats an illusion and what isnt
      Art is everywhere – we are works of art ourselves:)

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