Optical illusions in Street Art

Dan Witz, Baby Hands

At all time, artists have been interested in optical illusions and visual tricks. From Arcimboldo’s portraits made out of fruits and vegetables to Salvador Dali’s double images and Holbein’s famous anamorphosis, optical illusions have been a source of fascination in the arts.

Trompe-l’oeil is a pictorial genre that draws on the visual confusion of spectators: one might know one is standing in front of a flat surface, one’s eyes still perceive a three-dimensional image. Both deceptive and seductive at the same time, trompe-l’oeil is not limited to canvases, but extend to walls too, leading to often breath-taking architectural murals. The standard effect of trompe-l’oeil is the illusion that a flat objet is three-dimensional, or the impression that a painting is jumping out of its frame, therefore highlighting the artefact of representation.

Today, quite a lot of street artists use this old technique to play with the perception we have of our environment and integrate their work in urban landscape in a striking way.

Artsper has selected 8 murals and artists who mastered trompe-l’oeil, shake up our visual points of reference and engage spectators in a complex dialogue with the environment.


Ernest Pignon Ernest, Portrait of Pier Paolo Pasolini in the streets of Naples

Ernest Pignon, alias Ernest Pignon Ernest, born in 1942 in the city of Nice, is one of the pioneers of street art in France. Since 1966, he travels over France and the world to stick his ephemeral paper works on city walls to recall the too often forgotten stories of places.

For each series, Ernest Pignon Ernest digs in the past of the places he invests and choses a significant episode or a period of time that he interprets his own way and exhibits at the surface.

From 1988 to 1995, he worked in the city of Naples, where layers of history –Greek, Roman, Christian- add on: a city of the origins that inspired Ernest Pignon Ernest an homage to Caravaggio.

Ernest Pignon Ernest, Naples


Dan Witz, Van Wyck Expressway, Queens, NY 2010

Dan Witz is an artist from Chicago who started doing street art in New York at the beginning of the 1980’s. He is often called the “godfather of street” and is today internationally famous, especially for his humorous interventions on road signs.

His approach combines classicism and modernism: for him, figurative art is a starting point and a springboard to more expressive and less literal artistic approaches. Light is for example essential in his work. Dan Witz uses new technologies and old master technics in his work to reach more realism.

In 2008, he started a series of trompe-l’oeil work representing people behind grids. He place them in unexpected places of New York and other American cities. These pieces are of a striking realism, and raise the question of imprisonment in both a literal and metaphorical way.


Anders Gjennestad, Porsgrunn, Norway, 2013

Anders Gjennestad, alias STRØK, is a Norwegian artist newly arrived on the street art scene and walking on the footsteps of the best stencil street artists. He uses his own photographs as a reference of his work and create multi-layers stencils to reach a photo-realist effect.

His work draws on the perception of space through perspectives and cast shadows: STRØK’s work make the viewer lose his spatial reference points and move our center of gravity. The viewer suddenly finds himself in a moving setting where up can become down at any moment.

Chute libre, Anders Gjennestad, Paris


Mike Hewson, Christchurch, New Zealand

Mike Hewson is an artist from New-Zealand who created a series of monumental murals in Christchurch -his hometown- for the project “Homage to the Lost Spaces”: the city had been partially destroyed during an earthquake in 2011.

His hyperrealist and ephemeral artworks were scattered on different places of the town. They payed a last homage to the story of those ruined buildings and gave them their life back for a moment. The aim was to show the buildings in their past functional state, before the catastrophy. Mike Hewson’s murals were only placed on buildings about to be demolished; they were like a last goodbye to those places.


Eduardo Relero

Eduardo Relero is an Argentinian artist who specializes in surrealist trompe-l’œil made on the floor with chalk. Meant to interact with the audience, Eduardo Relero’s work has travelled all over the world, from New York to Rome, Mexico and Tokyo.

When he started putting his picaresque works out in the street, he did not know anything about street art culture. Anamorphosis is his favorite artistic device: it is a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. Therefore the viewer has to actively decifer the image.

Eduardo Relero, Spain


Juandres Vera, Mexico

Juandres Vera is a Mexican street artist known for his hyperrealist work all over the world, from Italy to Netherlands, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States.

After having worked several years as a decorative painter, he turned to fine art and started in 2007 to do temporary urban installations. His art is strongly influenced by baroque painting as well as surrealist style.

The Mind is the Beast was made for Magic City, Juandres Vera, Germany


Zilda, Paris
Zilda, Paris

Zilda is a self-taught French artist from Rennes who first works on paper in his workshop before installing his pieces in the streets of Naples, Paris, Lorient etc. His work strongly recalls Ernest Pignon Ernest’s, that he openly refers to as his primary source of inspiration, whether for its technic or his themes: as Ernest Pignon Ernest, Zilda reinterprets figures of public imagination, mythological and literary characters often with humor.

In Zilda’s work, everything is about where the piece is located and the dialogue it creates with the environment. Zilda’s carefully chosen locations reveal the poetical aspect of his work.

Zilda, Paris


Cayetano Ferrer

Cayetano Ferrer is an American artist who works with photography, videos, and sculptures. His work creates optical illusion based on transparency. Since 2004, in his series entitled “City of Chicago” and “Western Imports”, Cayetano Ferrer makes objects –cardboard boxes, road signs- literally disappear in urban landscapes.

The artists starts by taking a picture of the chosen place and then reproduces the setting on a sticker that he then puts on the object, taking its volume into account. The object becomes almost invisible and disappears in its background, but never quite enough for the viewer to stop perceive its presence.

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