BEIRUT: Optical illusions are two-dimensional drawings that play tricks on the eyes, deliberately creating an effect that is wrongly interpreted by the brain.
For the most part these images are intended to be entertaining or educational rather than artistic – but there are always exceptions to the rule.
“Dinamismo Statico” (Static Dynamism) – a solo exhibition by Italian abstract artist Sandro Sanna, currently up at Saifi Village’s Gallery Piece Unique – is not billed as a retrospective, but nevertheless allows the viewer an insight into Sanna’s working process, showing a range of pastel-on-paper and mixed media pieces from 1995 until this year.
It is this range which makes the exhibition interesting, showing Sanna’s development as an artist over almost 20 years.
Sanna’s focus is on capturing light and shadow, and many of his pieces use optical illusion to play with the viewer’s perception. Two-dimensional pieces are made to appear three-dimensional – a sort of abstract trompe l’oeil.
There are several distinct groupings within the 20 examples of Sanna’s work on show, though all have in common their approach to capturing and representing light.
The first discernable thread in the artist’s work is a group of pieces that employ light and shadow to create seemingly raised areas on a flat surface.
A pastel-on-paper sketch from 1995 shows an early study in which Sanna has used a simple combination of gold chalk and black paper to create the illusion of three-dimensions, marking small squares with the pastel, then scattering chalk dust across the rest of the page, leaving black only where the shadow of each gold square would fall, were it in fact a cube.
From a distance the result appears to be a series of golden cubes glued to a flat surface.
This theme appears in more elaborate forms in Sanna’s later work, in particular in his “Bisanzio” (Byzantium) and “Lunare” (Lunar) series.
These mixed media on canvas pieces employ a more sophisticated technique to achieve a similar effect, using small pieces of colored microfilm in the place of gold pastel, and shavings of colored plastic in the place of sprinkled chalk dust.
In “Bisanzio” (2010), the viewer sees a golden canvas studded with raised square stones that catch the light, arranged to form an abstract pattern of evenly spaced dots and diagonal lines, their shadows forming black smears beneath them.
As the viewer approaches the canvas it becomes clear that in fact the piece is the exact opposite of its appearance from a distance.
The gold, which appears to be the base, is the most raised part of the piece (made up of shavings of ochre plastic), while the black shadows that seem to fall on it are the black paint showing through from below, an echo of Sanna’s trick with the gold pastel.
The jewels, far from being raised stones, are small squares of reflective microfilm in rich, jewel-like blues, pinks and silvers, which are actually set into the piece, rather than protruding outward.
In 2007 and 2008 Sanna appears to have swapped his four-sided shapes for blade-like triangular forms, in a series of pieces that play with reflections.
Jagged metallic looking shapes – like icicles or the shards of a broken mirror – cover these canvases. Splashes of vivid color at strategic points create the impression of light refracting off burnished metal.
His most recent pieces are perhaps a further evolution of his gold pastel sketch. A return to parallelograms sees black squares seemingly hang in space against what might be stars or a burst of bright light, creating the sense of a vacuum where gravity has ceased to exist.
Sanna’s work is somewhat lacking in movement, as the exhibition title suggests, and for the most part consists of variations on a theme. That said, it is remarkable for its ability to make viewers question their basic assumptions about depth, light and the trustworthiness of their own eyes.
Sandro Sanna’s “Dinamismo Statico” is up at Saifi’s Piece Unique Gallery until Oct. 27. For more information, please call 01-975-655.