Tricking the eye: contemporary trompe l’oeil


The French phrase trompe l’oeil literally translates to ’trick the eye’ and, over the years, this kind of painting has come to seem a bit kitsch. It brings to mind dodgy murals in old-school pizza parlours or backpackers recreating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on the footpath in chalk for a few coins in a hat. But Lisa Sullivan, curator of the group show Tricking the eye: contemporary trompe l’oeil, saw potential in this historical style and is determined to point out that the genre also has a 21st-century edge.

“I was interested in using the art historical traditions of trompe l’oeil as the starting point to bring together works by contemporary Australian artists who incorporate illusionistic elements in their work,” Sullivan explains.

“Extending the boundaries of the genre was definitely my intention.” With this in mind, in addition to paintings that ’trick the eye’, she has also included less conventional interpretations of trompe l’oeil, such as video, photography and sculpture.

Tricking the eye: contemporary trompe l’oeil includes paintings by Chris Bond, Gregory Hodge, Jan Murray, John R Neeson, Tully Moore and Colleen Ahern; sculpture by Georgina Cue, Sam Jinks and Ricky Swallow; video by Daniel Crooks; and Anne Zahalka’s photographs. What links their diverse work is that you can expect the unexpected: they render the familiar strange. “I think the uncanny plays an important role in trompe l’oeil works,” says Sullivan. “I like the idea of the ’unexpected’ or ’mysterious’ that many of these works present.”

Trompe l’oeil artworks are a visual game. What is real and what is an illusion? The playful deception in Tricking the eye: contemporary trompe l’oeil is an invitation to gallery visitors to get up close and solve them.

Tricking the eye: contemporary trompe l’oeil
Geelong Gallery
26 November – 12 February 2017.

Preview Words by Tracey Clement