I came across a video of the work of artist Stefan Pabst. His work includes photorealistic portraiture, but it was his 3D drawings that amazed me. While the glasses he draws look like something you could pick up and the spider looks real enough to send arachnophobes running, the snake was what really caught my attention. The black and red creature looks as it it is about to wriggle off the page.
Even when you have watched how they are done and you know these are no more than drawings… two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects… there is a still a part of the mind that expects them to be real. It is as if part of the brain fixates on its first, immediate impression of reality rather than being able to adapt to a new and more accurate perspective.
What makes the stalling of the mind even more interesting is that when seen from any other angle except the one the artist intended, the illusion fails; the oddness becomes obvious as soon as you view it from a tangential position. Look at it from the ‘right’ angle again and the illusion is not only complete, but the reactions and expectations kick back in, almost in spite of knowledge.
It is really quite strange.
It had really struck me when I jumped as the glass was almost ‘knocked over’ and its ‘contents’ spilled. It reminded me of an incident with an arachnophic son, a remote controlled tarantula and a leap of epic proportions across a room…
Is it a natural human trait, to accept the reality we are presented with and then apply what we know to any similar reality we stumble across? In the case of a glass, a spider and a snake, we know through experience what to expect and our reactions seem automatic. In the case of the very unrealistic remote controlled tarantula, it only needed to look vaguely like a spider to have a spectacular result; the disparity between the reality and its perception had no mitigating effect at all… I just wished I’d had the camera…
Pabst uses a trompe l’oeil technique that is designed to ‘deceive the eye’. We assume that the visual world behaves according to the familiar rules and so are indeed deceived, even when the mind knows otherwise. The reality we see is only a small part of the story.
It makes me wonder, though, how faulty our perception might be in other ways. Are we focussing so much on the ‘easiest’ reality… the one we first learned as children…unable to see other perspectives, even when we know they are there?
I watched the videos again and it quickly became obvious why the things Pabst draws look so real… it is all in the shadows. I remember reading years ago that one of the fundamental mistakes made by the novice artist is to be afraid of shadows and looking at my own work realised how true that was. It is their depth and darkness that give shape and form, the contrast they provide that lifts the light into relief and gives reality to an image.
Both light and shade are needed before we can see the full depth of both an image and the reality around us. The classic example of a white dot on a white background shows how little we can see without the darkness that gives form to what is present.
As usual, I could not help but draw a comparison to the dark and light in life that give our days and our emotions shape, depth and reality. It is natural to wish for a time of happiness and peace, yet without the black days, would we even see it when it comes? Would we be able to distinguish it from the surrounding and inevitable blandness? We need the contrast of the shadows in order to be able to perceive light at all… and certainly before we can understand its shape and reality.
Even the earth knows both day and night and in each there are creatures who thrive on the reality it offers them. Their reality…one that may seem very different from our own, but only because we are looking at it from a different angle.
You can see more of Stefan’s work in this Mail Online article.