Kurt Wenner’s anamorphic street painting.
Kurt Wenner is an artist that employs the technique known as anamorphic or illusionistic street painting, which gives the illusion of depth when viewed from certain perspectives. His three-dimensional paintings seem to rise from into the ground.
Kurt Wenner attended Rhode Island School of Design and Art Center College of Design before working for NASA as an advanced scientific space illustrator. Wenner eventually left NASA for Italy in order to pursue his love of classical art.
Wenner invented an art form all his own that has come to be known as anamorphic or illusionistic street painting. The form of perspective known as anamorphism was used by the great European Masters to give the illusion of soaring architecture and floating figures in ceiling frescoes. Wenner adjusted this geometry to create compositions that seemed to rise from and fall into the ground. In anamorphic perspective, painted forms appear as three-dimensional when viewed from one point in space. Wenner created a special pictorial geometry that corrected the specific distortion caused by viewing his large images at an oblique angle. His work has been featured on numbers of newspaper and magazine articles, television spots, ads, and documentaries.
Any work of figurative art, even a picture in a frame, employs some illusion. The two major types of illusion are: conventional and optical. A framed picture is a conventional illusion. The viewer can choose to see the frame as a window, a starting point from which to visually enter the painted world. This is referred to as “a willing suspension of disbelief.” The frame can also be a border, safely separating the real world from the imaginary. The viewer recognizes the work as a painting on a wall long before looking at the subject.
Optical illusions blur the distinction between the real and the imaginary, literally fooling the viewer (trompe l’oeil). I juxtapose both types of illusion in my work. In photographs of my street paintings, the art can appear as “real” as the audience. I use the photograph’s “objective documentation” to question if the contemporary world is really more substantial than the worlds of history and imagination.
Although I employ an arsenal of visual tools to create illusion, the classical language of form is the most vital. Classicism is vastly superior to other forms of realism for the creation of illusion, as it is based on human perception. Every stroke has the purpose of communicating form and space to the viewer. While stylistic references may tie a work to the 1400’s, Renaissance, or Baroque, illusionism brings it into the present by creating an optical and geometrical link to the contemporary surroundings.
Wenner’s illusionism along with the success of the National Geographic documentary inspired many communities to create their own street painting festivals. Wenner worked with the organizers of the first festivals to prepare the surface and materials, as well as train artists. Today there are dozens of street painting festivals in the USA and throughout the world that attract thousands of professional and amateur artists, as well as children. Millions of spectators have now had the opportunity to see a live street painting event, or one broadcast on local and national television.
When Pope John Paul II arrived in Mantua, Italy, Wenner was commissioned to create an original composition for a 15’ x 75’ street painting based on the Last Judgment. Under Wenner’s direction, thirty of Europe’s best street painters worked 10 days to create the work. The Pope signed the mural, officially recognizing street painting as an official form of Sacred Art.
Street painting festivals seem to fill a great need for the artists and the public. The artists are able to set aside their fears and self-doubt and share the process of creating a work with the public. The public is delighted to see the process and have it accessible. For decades artists have exhibited finished works in art galleries. Art galleries model themselves after museums and present art in a finished form, completely removed from the artist and studio. Although they seek to give importance to the work by this association, they often create a wall between the public and the artist. In other centuries artists have had a more direct link to their public and appear to have benefited from this.