A Room Transformed By A Brain-Breaking Illusion

Pablo Garcia uses anamorphism to mind-bending effect at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory Art Museum.

Sight is a fantastic sense, but looks can be deceiving. Pablo Garcia tested the limits of our brain-eye coordination at Gestures, a recurring group show at the Mattress Factory Art Museum in Pittsburgh, which invites artists to create site-specific “interventions” inspired by locations within the institution itself.


He found his spatial muse in a room where stark white paint covered every surface, including the ornate, Victorian-era molding. “Once I spent time in there and realized it had only one entrance, I knew I could attempt an illusion,” he tells Co.Design. “A visitor would, predictably, get the same vantage point each time by entering, lose the effect as they move throughout, and then regain it as they exited through the same door.”

This unique blank slate offered him the opportunity to use a centuries-old technique to create his nice bit of visual trickery. First, he made the actual windows appear faux, like a wireframe, by painting over all the details with black pinstripes. Then, he turned his attention to the adjacent, completely unadorned wall to practice a bit of analog virtual art, or anamorphosis.

Whereas the artists who developed perspective projection way back in the 1400s–and those like Hans Holbein who became famous for perfecting it–were doing all their intricate work by hand, Garcia employed some thoroughly modern methods. After taking incredibly careful measurements, he reconstructed the area on his trusty computer, using a model that then determined the geometric marks he needed to hit in order to create the mirrored effect he was after. “I used a projector to help align the digitally distorted image on the wall and made reference points. From there, it was just several days of hand-painting.” 

The result is a total mind-bender. “It’s about a fake image and a real object exchanging attributes, perhaps meeting somewhere in between the actual and the virtual,” he says. For more from Garcia, who’s currently an assistant professor in the Department of Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, check out his explorations in Holbein-esque Memento Mori here, here, and here, as well as Co.Design fave MachinesDrawing DrawingMachines.

You can catch Windows at the Mattress Factory through January 6, 2013.