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See Inside Illusions: 187 Ways to Trick Your Brain

Truer Than Truth

Trompe l'oeil illusions challenge your perception


I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. —Al Pacino in Scarface, 1983

In the studio of sculptor Tom Eckert, life appears to imitate art. A new snow shovel—Eckert cannot get much use of it in Tempe, Ariz.—hangs on the back wall, covered by a sheer piece of fabric. We had seen photographs of Eckert's art before our visit, so we suspect that the translucent curtain is carved out of wood. But the trick is on us. Eckert reveals that the shovel is wood as well, as is the “plastic” hook holding it and the two not really galvanized metal nails securing the curtain to the wall. Instead a metal fastener hidden in the back supports the entire piece, and the shovel's filmy silhouette is spray-painted onto the solid wood block that is the faux silk curtain. Elsewhere in the studio, we mistake wood sculptures for balled-up used work rags, and vice versa. Is the rag abandoned on the workbench a model for a sculpture, or are we looking at the carving instead? Only after touching it can we decide.

Further Reading

Momento Mori: Contemporary Still Life by Tom Eckert, Robert Peterson and John Rise. Grady Harp. Lizardi/Harp Gallery, 2000.

Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions. Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, with Sandra Blakeslee. Holt, 2010.

Illusions of Reality: Naturalist Painting, Photography, Theatre and Cinema, 1875–1918. Gabriel P. Weisberg; contributions by Edwin Becker, Maartje de Haan, David Jackson and Willa Z. Silverman, with collaboration by Jean-François Rauzier. Mercatorfonds/Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam/Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, 2011.

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