See How Street Artists Get Creative with Optical Illusions

See How Street Artists Get Creative with Optical Illusions
Detail of a mural by Izzy Izvne, Photo Credit: Izzy Izvne/Facebook

Gigantic and mind-bending, these artists transform unused and everyday spaces into inventive works of art

Nayanika Mukherjee
January 17 , 2020
07 Min Read

Street art isn’t just about graffiti or didactic murals. Beyond the old tradition of chalk art on pavements, artists today often use the science of anamorphism to spice things up — the mathematical concept uses drawings made at a certain angle on old buildings, walls, and abandoned areas to generate a forced perspective for viewers. Some of these artists are spray paint loyalists, while others use cutouts and other mixed media to add personal flair. When this anamorphic art meets flat, seamless architecture, we end up with what’s called the trompe-l'œil effect. A medieval art technique, it uses realistic painting forms to create 3D illusions and is popular among street artists who are willing to go the extra mile. Here, we take a look at six of these creators and their standout projects featuring optical illusions:

The House on Zehntstraße 1, Mannheim


An anamorphic creation using the existing colour palette of the house, this building in Germany was spruced up for Stadt Wand Kunst 2019, a city wall art festival

Peeta (or Manuel di Rita, when he doesn’t have a spray can in hand) is a graffiti artist based out of Venice, Italy. He enjoys creating a visual rhythm using lettering and distorted architecture to play visual tricks on viewers. At the invite of the Stadt Wand Kunst festival, he visited Mannheim in the German state of Baden-Württemberg in 2019 with wife Maria Larissa Handiani to transform an inconspicuous house into a piece of show-stopping art. Influenced by sculpting, this large mural uses the trompe-l'œil effect, with bulges, shadowy contours, swirling paths and rings seemingly popping out of a static grey wall.

Portals into the Cosmos, Moldova'Pink Sakura' by Izzy Izvne

Another mural, painted in complementary shades of purple and yellow

“Give me your wall and I'll show you how it breathes” says Izzy Izvne, a Moldovan artist splashing portals into the unknown everywhere she goes. Colourful 3D spheres float within these seemingly endless tunnels, which are ringed with aggressive calligraphy and scratches of paint. Izvne is a master at tricking the brain into depth perception where there is none, and we like how a potentially gloomy concept is livened up with neon shades.

The Refueling Robot, Dubai

The anamorphic wall painting encompasses several floors and sticks to a warm colour palette

The old-school robot on Happiness Street

Leon Keer is a leading anamorphic artist who works on canvas and street walls. As part of the open-air Dubai Street Museum (DSM) project, he visited the UAE in December 2019 to paint this vibrant mural of a robot charging its batteries across a complex. Complete with solar panels, a voltage meter, and a shiny red switch, it’s one of 70 murals created for the DSM over the past few years. The smiling droid can be aptly found at Happiness Street in the Dubai Trade Center Area.

Mural for Arte Pública Leiria, Portugal

The likeness of dancer Inesa Markava, sprawled onto a facade in Leiria

View of the photorealistic mural from a baclony in the neighbourhood

Guido van Helten is best known for his photorealistic installations exploring communities and identities. The Australian artist used Leiria-based contemporary dancer Inesa Markava as his muse for this gigantic mural of a woman resting against a building. The piece was created in October 2019 for public art fete Arte Pública Leiria and explores architecture, colour, and movement to liven up drab urban features. Van Helten completed a photographic study of the area’s textures before embarking on this dreamy mural. You can get a glimpse into his thought process here.

‘Arendal’ in Agder, Norway

Three men scale a wall in this 3D-style mural

View of 'Arendal' from afar

Anders Gjennestad is a stencil artist who leaves quite the impression. His street art pieces, scattered across Europe, are based on detailed photographs he has captured of human figures in urgent positions. The cutouts — most prominently of people running, climbing, or parkour-ing away from a viewer — have realistic shadows beneath them to give the feel of an optical illusion, and most of Anders’ work is in black and white. Previously known as STRØK, the Berlin-based artist made this monochrome piece in his hometown of Arendal (yes, Frozen fans, it’s a real place) and we can’t really tell if he meant for the figures to be hoisting themselves up or jumping down.

Hyper-realistic animal murals

A kangaroo with her joey, painted at the Darwin Street Art Festival

An alligator lounges in a 'pool' at Upfest, Europe's largest street art and graffiti festival

A social commentary piece, highlighting the invasion of plastic in marine habitats

Sérgio ‘Odeith’ is a Portuguese mural-maker and former tattoo artist based in Lisbon. He is popular for the 3D street art of birds, animals and insects he creates on concrete blocks and 90-degree corners. His darker anamorphic pieces are created in a self-proclaimed ‘somber 3D’ style in abandoned places; particularly famous was his graffiti transformation of a solid concrete block into a bus, which went viral in August 2019.

When looking closer home, some of India’s most famous photorealistic, anamorphic and 3D street art comes from artists commissioned by the St+art India Foundation, a public art NGO based out of New Delhi. Some of their most well-known projects are the Lodhi Art District and their colourful showcase at Mumbai’s Sassoon Docks. To chance upon more optical illusions by indigenous artists, you can visit St+art’s website.

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