Trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) paintings intentionally confuse the viewer’s perceptions of reality and illusion. Traditionally, these works consist of an illusionistic shallow space filled with actual-size objects, rendered with a high degree of verisimilitude. Masterful handling of perspective and shadows blurs the difference between the flat surface of the canvas and physical relief. As when a skilled magician performs, this visual sleight of hand creates tension between what we know to be true, what we see, and what we want to believe.
Renaissance painters delighted in creating virtuosic illusions of subjects such as lace, satin, flowers, glass, and fruit. Trompe l’oeil painting continued this tradition and maintained popularity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. It was, in effect, a form of photo-realism before the advent of photography.
A new abstract version of the genre became prominent in the mid 1970s, largely through the efforts of Gallerist Louis K. Meisel . He marketed the paintings of George D. Green, James Havard and Jack Lembeck under the banner of “Abstract Illusionism.” Meisel’s Gallery eventually donated many of the works to museums, including the Erie Art Museum. The Museum also received trompe l’oeil paintings as gifts from Gallerist Ivan Karp and his family.
George Green blends hard-edged geometric abstraction, the illusion of shallow space, and actual relief on his canvases. His active compositions are packed with geometric forms, swirling “brush strokes,” and contradictory overlapping layers that shift between foreground and background. It is only possible for viewers to differentiate between relief and illusion as they approach within an arm’s length of the canvas.
Jack Lembeck’s airbrush paintings have a gritty, urban vibe. They evoke layered graffiti, street paint, studio clutter, and unwashed windows. He often paints masking tape corners, creating the illusion of a sheet of scratched and soiled plastic taped over a layered surface.
The George Green paintings are the generous gifts of Louis K. and Susan Pear Meisel.