“Do we have to buy tickets to the gallery…or is it free entrance…” we asked the security guard at the door of the Rarity Gallery.
The security guard didn’t respond immediately as if trying to decide what to say, but his gaze was constantly fixed on us. He was a middle-aged man perhaps in his fifties. His glasses gave him an intellectual look and his smartly pressed trousers revealed his attention to detail. I looked at his admiral’s hat and shiny shoes. He looked back at me without blinking his eyes; it seemed to me that he was deep in thought.
His blue uniform, his hat and badge declared that he was obviously the security officer of the building – then why was he not responding, was he deaf?!
“You need to ask me that question!” a smiling young lady came out of the gallery and welcomed us into the gallery.
I looked again at the security guard seated on his chair motionless in the corner of the tiny gallery’s entrance, his expression was still unchanged. The young lady was now chuckling. We realized our mistake in a split second. We had been fooled. It was a piece of illusionistic art! The security guard was a life-size realistic sculpture by Marc Sijan.
Now that we had been well and truly fooled, we went near him and looked closely at the unbelievably lifelike sculpture of the guard - the hands, the nails, the veins running along his hands, the tiny hairs, even the blemishes on his skin. There must be a real person hiding just under the surface of the sculpture. It was truly awe inspiring.
“Welcome to the genre of “Hyper Realism”!” said the young lady now leading us into the gallery while explaining how several artists came together to create an exhibition there.
Later while reading about illusionism, I learnt about the French term “trompe l’oeil” (pronounced as “trawnp lœ-yuh”) which stands for visual deception in art. Such art can fool the eye of the beholder.
Examples of trompe-l’oeil go back in time. The ancient Greek artist Zeuxis had painted grapes so realistic that even birds pecked at them! Similarly when the Italian painter Giotto had painted a fly sitting on the nose of a painted figure, people would try to brush off the fly thinking it was real.
In modern times trompe l’oeil has been used effectively in commercials such as the Honda ad where its temporary visual deception provides comic relief:
Rene Magritte the Belgian surrealist artist makes his point in “The Betrayal of Images” (This is not a pipe) that no matter how lifelike the pipe looks in the picture, it is simply not a pipe because one cannot stuff tobacco in it. By that logic no picture of an apple is actually an apple because one cannot eat it and a picture of a car is never really a car because one cannot drive it. Perception in these cases is far from reality.
We live in a world of spin and popular propaganda is often far from the truth. Just because we see something on TV or read something on the Internet it cannot be automatically believed as true.
However in some cases perception does translate to reality. And sometimes deception can be of a permanent nature.
One example from the world of art is the story of the sculptor Pygmalion who created Galatea - a beautiful girl made out of ivory. Apparently Pygmalion was frustrated with the unfaithfulness of the women in his life so he created his own woman and believed her to be real. So strong was his belief in her real-ness that he even brought her flowers and jewels as gifts.
The story goes that Pygmalion prayed to Venus for a wife as lovely as Galatea and Venus granted his wish - which brought the statue to life.
Pygmalion believed in the illusion created by him. He prayed hard to make his illusion come to life. And finally the illusion became real. This could be happening even in modern times, and not just in the realm of art.
The greatest deception is one that ultimately becomes real.
While stepping out of the gallery that day in Greece, I looked at the security guard one last time. I smiled and waved him goodbye. For one frozen moment in time it seemed to me that he winked through his glasses and smiled back at me.