optical illusion

  • Spheres in a mirror

    Spheres in a mirror

    Mirror, wood, acrylic 29x29x6cm May 2024

    A sculptural work composed of coloured hemispheres reflected in a mirror to create the illusion of complete spheres.

    The mirror is a front coated mirror so that there is no gap between the hemispheres resting on the surface of the mirror and the reflection.

    The sculpture includes one complete sphere that creates the effect of a pair of spheres when reflected. This sphere is there for compositional purposes, but it fortuitously helps to emphasise the nature of the reflections of the hemispheres.

    This work can be wall mounted or can be displayed horizontally.

    The work explores the themes of mirrors, reflections and illusions that have featured recurrently in my work over the decades.

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  • Mirror sculpture

    contemporary art mirror reflections circles

    Mirror art. Interlinked rings.

    Mirror, card, acrylic. 30x30x18cm Feb 2024

    A sculpture composed of a mirror with a sculptural form made of card and paper attached to its surface. The card and paper are painted with acrylic paint.

    The interlinking of, and interplay between, the horizontal and vertical forms in the sculpture are significant features of the piece.

    contemporary art mirror sculpture reflections

    The upright sculptural forms are held in place on the mirror by magnets attached to the back of the mirror. The magnets attract small pieces of steel tape that are embedded in the card of the sculpture. This ensures that the sculpture can be held invisibly on the mirror, with no obvious means of attachment such as fasteners or glue.

    The mirror in this piece is a standard rear-coated mirror, so there is a separation between the objects on the mirror and their reflections. Some of the pieces on the mirror are painted a different colour on the side that is facing the mirror so that the underside adds an extra element to the composition. In other works where I don’t want a separation between the objects and their reflections I use front-coated mirrors.

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  • Mirror art – Squaring the Circle

    contemporary mirror art reflections

    Mirror art. Squaring the Circle

    Mirror, card, paper, acrylic. 28x28x18cm Feb 2024

    A mirror piece consisting of a semicircle of card half of which passes inside a box-like construction. The semicircle and box are resting on a mirror so that the semicircle appears to be part of a full circle that enters and exits the box.

    contemporary art mirror sculpture reflections

    The reflection of the box makes the box appear to be half of a square structure, with the circle entering and leaving the interior of the square via its openings where the square is cut. This gives rise to the title of the piece, Squaring the Circle.

    contemporary art mirror sculpture reflections

    The mirror is a front-coated (or first-coated) mirror. Unlike standard mirrors that have their reflective coating on the rear surface of the glass front-coated mirrors have the reflective surface on the front. With a standard mirror the thickness of the glass creates a gap or space between the object on the glass and the reflection, while with a front-coated mirror the object and the reflection are ‘touching’.

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  • Mirror art – Flite

    contemporary art mirrors reflections

    Mirror art. Flite.

    Mirror, card, acrylic. 28x28x18cm Feb 2024

    A wall mounted mirror piece.

    A wall mounted sculpture composed of a mirror with a sculptural form made of card attached to its surface. The card is painted with acrylic paint.

    contemporary art mirror sculpture reflections

    The sculptural form is held in place on the mirror by a magnet attached to the back of the mirror. The magnet attracts a small piece of steel tape that is embedded in the card of the sculpture. This ensures that the sculpture can be held invisibly on the mirror, with no obvious means of attachment such as bolts or glue.

    The mirror is a front-coated (or first-coated) mirror. Unlike standard mirrors that have their reflective coating on the rear surface of the glass front-coated mirrors have the reflective surface on the front. If a standard mirror had been used the thickness of the glass would have created a gap or space between the object on the glass and its reflection, while with a front-coated mirror the object and the reflection are ‘touching’.


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  • Contemporary mirror art

    contemporary art mirror reflections

    Contemporary mirror art. Multiple reflections creating complete rings

    Mirrors, wood, card, acrylic.     2023.

    Two mirrors joined along their bottom horizontal edges are held at an angle to each other. Placed between the mirrors are three painted card sections of circles. Multiple reflections of the sections of card around the axis of the joined mirrors produce full circles. There are six reflections (or multiple reflections) in the mirrors, creating a full circle composed of seven sections.

    contemporary art mirror reflections

    A second component of coloured card is lying flat on the surface beside the mirror structure. The shape and colour of this second construction add another dimension to the assemblage as a whole. The fact that this part of the piece is in two colours and that it forms only part of a ring add to the resonance of the structure.

    contemporary art mirror reflections

    Below is a video of the sculpture. Because of the nature of the multiple reflections in the mirrors it’s particularly important to see the sculpture from different angles.


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  • Photography as abstract art

    contemporary art photography as abstract art - window

    Photography as abstract art.

    Photograph. May 2020. Zennor, Cornwall.

    A photograph as abstract art.

    I took this photograph because when I looked at the object in the photo in real life I was surprised how much it was transformed by a particular quality of light so that it resembled an abstract artwork.

    It’s a photograph of a window in my house.

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  • Contemporary mirror art – Yellow Ring

    Contemporary art, mirror art.    Yellow Ring

    Mirrors, wood, card, acrylic      2023

    A sculpture exploring reflections in mirrors. The sculpture is composed of two mirrors set at angles to each other so that they show the reflections of each other and thus show multiple reflections of objects reflected in them.

    Resting on the mirrors is a curved length of yellow card that forms a quarter of the circumference of a circle. Multiple reflections in the mirrors turn the quarter of a circle into a complete circle.

    Contemporary art mirrors multiple reflections

    From some viewpoints only part of the circle can be seen, giving the effect that the circle is somehow partly disappearing – a form of optical illusion created because the brain can’t interpret what it is seeing properly.

    Contemporary art mirrors multiple reflections

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  • Seeing the world from an unusual angle

    On the escalator. Seeing the world from an unusual angle.

    Video.   45 seconds. May 2023

    A video of people going down an down escalator at a London Underground station. I was going up the up escalator.

    The video was shot at an angle so that the sloping architecture of the escalator occupied the horizontal plane in the video.

    One of the metaphorical points of the video is the idea of looking at the world from unusual angles as a way of getting away from conventional ways of thinking and of conventional perception. It’s also quite humorous, which is something I often strive for.

    seeing the world from an unusual angle

    Tilting the world to unusual angles is a concept I’ve pursued multiple times. An early example was in the early 1970s when I toyed with the idea of writing a short story about an isolated community that lived in a town half way up a very steep hill. The hill was so big that the people couldn’t see the top or the bottom, so they didn’t realise that they actually lived on a slope. All they knew was that there was a strange force (gravity) that meant that objects were only stable when they were at a particular angle to the ground and orientated in a particular direction. And that walking towards one side of town (uphill) was quite hard work, while walking in the opposite direction (downhill) was easy.

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  • Fur in contemporary art

    Fur in contemporary art

    Fur ellipse

    Fake fur, card, acrylic. 30 x 42 x 8cm March 2022

    At first sight this work looks like a dark ellipse painted onto a blue background. Closer inspection reveals that the ellipse is in fact made of fur and that it protrudes some distance from the flat blue surface.

    fur in contemporary art
    A close-up detail of the work.

    The fur is dark and matt, making its texture quite hard to see without close inspection. As a result most casual observers don’t notice. A close inspection is however rewarded with the realisation of what is being looked at.

    This work exhibits my interest in interpreting perception, illusion and expectations.

    Optically deceptive artworks
    Optically deceptive artworks in my solo show at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall, 2022. The fur piece is the far one.

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  • Perception-challenging artwork

    Perception challenging contemporary artwork

    Shapes at the edge of perception

    Papier mache, acrylic, card.    30x21cm.    2021.

    A wall hung artwork in which a matte black hemisphere protrudes from a flat matte black surface. Due to the darkness of the surface the protruding hemisphere is quite hard to see (although in this photograph it is lit in a way that makes it reasonably visible). Even less obvious than the protruding hemisphere, the matte black circle at the centre of the metallic area is actually a hemispherical indentation. This indentation is very rarely noticed by observers.
    The work is an investigation into perception, optical illusions and expectation.

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  • Mirror art – reflected spheres

    contemporary mirror art multiple reflections

    Ring of Spheres – a study in the hierarchy of forms

    Mirrors, wood, papier mâché 15x28x30cm February 2022

    Two mirrors set at an angle to each other with a hemispherical object placed between them.

    The reflection of the hemisphere in the mirror on which its base rests creates the effect of a complete sphere, while the second mirror generates multiple reflections to give the effect of a ring of spheres. The number of spheres can be changed by varying the angle between the mirrors.

    It’s interesting to notice that when you look at this work you see reflected spheres although in reality you’re seeing reflected hemispheres. The sphere is visually, conceptually and metaphorically a more dominating form than the hemisphere, and thus its apparent presence in this work swamps the actual reality of there only being a hemisphere present.

    This work taps into my interest in the generation of forms from more basic forms, with simple forms being the building blocks of more complex entities and objects (see also my abstract moving image work). In this case the hemisphere can be interpreted as being an incomplete form which transforms into a complete sphere which in turn creates more spheres.

    The sphere can be thought of as a symbol of perfection or completeness, while a hemisphere is axiomatically incomplete (as its name implies).

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  • Mirror-based artwork – multiple reflections inside a cube creating the illusion of the word “OXO” in infinite regression

    contemporary art infinity mirror cube multiple reflections

    OXO Cube infinity mirror cube

    Mirrors, paper, acrylic. March 2017

    This is a mirror-based artwork that uses the concept of infinity mirrors (which is a phenomenon I first became aware of while I was a student of maths and physics in the early 1970s).
    The work consists of four mirrors forming the vertical walls of a cube, with the mirrored surfaces facing inwards. Each mirror reflects the mirror opposite it, including the reflections in that mirror, so the reflections build up to form infinite reflections (or, more accurately, multiple reflections, as the reflections gradually fade due to light loss).
    Where two mirrors meet in the cube’s corners each mirror reflects the other corner mirror, creating a different set of multiple reflections.

    The design on the cube’s floor forms the abstract image below:

    contemporary mirror OXO Cube base

    In each corner of the cube the abstract images are reflected in the mirrors to appear to form the word “OXO”.
    Each of these words “OXO” is then reflected infinite times in the other mirrors in the cube.
    This artwork is titled “OXO Cube”, as it’s just too good a title to ignore (The artwork is meant to contain an element of humour).

    contemporary art mirror cube

    A low viewpoint looking into the mirror cube, as below, shows the infinity mirror effect at its best.

    contemporary art infinity mirror reflections in cube

    Below: a video of the mirror cube.

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  • Ghost Pipe – shadows generating an optical illusion

    optical illusion created by a shadow – photograph

    Ghost Pipe – optical illusion

    Unretouched photograph. September 2018

    An unretouched photograph of a single pipe inside a room near a window.
    The shadows generated by the light through the window create varying dark areas on the wall that give the illusion of a second pipe – a Ghost Pipe.

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  • Land art – buttercup field with hidden object

    Land art – Buttercup Field, Rosemorran, Zennor

    Video. 27sec

    A video of a field of buttercups that contains a hard-to-see object near the centre-left.
    The object is revealed at the end of the video.
    The video is on a recurring theme in my work – an investigation into perception, reality and illusion.
    The video was taken behind my house at Lower Rosemorran, Zennor, in Cornwall.

    Spoiler alert – the nature of the object in the video is revealed in the next section.
    The scene in the video contains, on the ground amongst the grass and buttercups, a square mirror. The mirror is hard to see partly because of the distracting proliferation of buttercups, but mostly because the mirror is positioned so that the light from the sky doesn’t create give-away shadows or highlights (buttercups that are reflected in the mirror can look abnormally lit compared with the rest of the buttercups if the angle of the light is incorrect).

    Below is a photograph of the wider field in which the work took place.

    contemporary art video mirror perception illusion

    The work is filmed in an almost cliched, very peaceful and calming field full of spring flowers, which to me makes a nice setting for a work that at its most pretentious can be interpreted as being a prompt for questioning the nature of reality. At its least pretentious however, it’s just a nice visual joke.
    Mirrors and reflections have been a common features of my work for many years, with the first probably being this artistic experiment from about 1970.

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  • The perception of pattern – join the dots

    contemporary art and science - perception of pattern from dots

    The perception of pattern. Ambiguously decipherable interlocking patterns of dots

    Patterns generated by superimposed lines of dots

    This image is inspired by a diagram by David Marr (1945-1980), a British neuroscientist who worked extensively in the field of visual processing.
    The David Marr image, shown below, was concerned with the way in which the human eye (and brain) will scan images seeking out understandable patterns. The image reminded me very much of some of the images that I’ve produced myself that involve the perception of pattern (before I’d seen the David Marr image), both in its form (arrays of dots) and its intension (the generation of ambiguously decipherable interlocking patterns).

    David Marr visual processing dot pattern
    (Image reprinted courtesy of The MIT Press from Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information by David Marr, ©MIT 2010, figure 2-5, page 50)

    Naturally I was inspired to deconstruct the David Marr image so that I could then try to create my own images based on what I found. The image at the top of this post is the first result.
    After studying David Marr’s image I worked out that a simplified version of it could be constructed from multiple versions of the basic star-like element shown below, with each element placed at an equal distance from the adjacent elements.

    contemporary art science pattern perception

    I call this star-like image a basic element, but that’s slightly inaccurate.

    This ‘basic element’ isn’t really a basic element at all, because each ray of the star is a rotated repetition of an even more basis element, this being a row of thirty three dots in a straight line. See the image below. So in some ways the element in the image above isn’t really a star-like shape at all – it’s actually a set of six lines of dots rotated to different degrees.

    pattern perception in visual processing

    Just one more thing.
    When you look at the innermost dots centre the star-like element above you see a clearly defined inner ring of dots and probably a less obvious secondary ring of dots. These ‘innermost dots’ are only ‘innermost dots’ if you choose to define the dots that are closer to the centre of the figure as a separate entity (a ring). In truth all of the dots in the image have the same status (other than that of their position), all being simply dots in lines, it’s just that the ones closest to the centre most easily form a ring when interpreted by our brains. Our brains can interpret the second set of dots as a secondary ring because you can, when you concentrate slightly, see that they are linked into this formation by association with their neighbours, although more loosely than is the case with the emphatic inner ring. What you won’t notice though is that the next set of dots outwards also form a ring, as do the next set and the next set all the way out to the end of the rows of dots. You can’t see this because for all of the dots beyond the secondary ring the dots are too well separated for the eye to associate them with each other. Somewhere in the space between the secondary ring of dots and the next dots outwards a threshold is crossed at which the brain can’t hold the dots together as a ring – the association is broken.

    It’s interesting that this explanation was intended to be about the relatively complex image at the top of the post, but I’ve spent most of my time dissecting the simpler star-like image of the underlying element. Fortunately, the points that I’ve made about the underlying element are exactly the points that can be applied to the more complex image, and thankfully without the excessively complex structures within the complex image conspiring to befuddle the brain.

    The David Marr image was featured in the introduction to the book Art Forms in Nature, featuring the drawings of German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1918), published by Prestel, 1998.

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  • Mirrors, reflections, perception and illusion.

    mirror based art - shoe reflections in a mirror

    Shoe reflected in a mirror – the art of illusion

    Shoes, mirror. 2013

    This is a version of an artwork exploring reflections in mirrors, in this case based on a pair of shoes and a mirror. The shoes are positioned so that the reflection of each shoe in the mirror coincides exactly with the other shoe on the opposite side of the mirror, merging the real shoe and the reflection of the other shoe into what appears to be one shoe.
    Like a lot of my works that involve illusion this one explores the line between reality and our interpretation of what we perceive, our perception of reality.

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  • Illusion in a mirror – the interpretation of perception and the illusion of continuity

    Contemporary art: an optical illusion reflection of colored rods in a mirror

    Colour Discontinuity 3 – the illusion of continuity

    Front surface mirror, wood, acrylic. March 2017 20x20x14cm

    A colored rod reflected in a mirror, positioned so that the reflection of the rod coincides with another rod of a different color on the other side of the mirror, creating an ambiguous optical effect.

    A study of ambiguous visual stimuli to question the nature of perception and the interpretation of reality through the visual illusion of continuity.

    The work is quite small and is intended to be viewed close up. Because of this the mirror used is a front surfce mirror (or first surface mirror), which is a mirror that is coated on the front rather than the back. As a result there are no ghost reflections caused by the thickness of the glass.

    I’ve worked with mirrors since I was a teenager in the late 1960s, when I ground the parabolic mirror for an astronomical telescope that I’d constructed. I got it coated by Grubb Parsons, a telescope manufacturing company that constructed seriously large telescopes including the Isaac Newton telescope and the William Herschel telescope. I used that mirror in one of my early mirror art experiments in about 1970.

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  • Environmental art – planet earth in a kitchen waste bin

    environmental contemporary art sculpture

    Environmental contemporary art – the Earth in a kitchen waste bin.

    Kitchen waste bin, digital display.    January 2017, Cornwall.

    This is an example of my work on environmental issues such as global warming and climate change. This sculpture addresses the issues of over-consumption, environmental degradation and waste. I have been creating work about the state of the natural world and the environment since the 1970s.

    From most angles (as in the image on the left, above) the bin looks like any conventional kitchen bin: however when viewed from the front (the image on the right, above) the opening in the bin is transformed into a portal to the cosmos, with the Earth suspended in the darkness of outer space.
    The inside of the bin is pitch black due to the use of extremely matt black paint, while the Earth shines as a back-lit image.

    environmental contemporary art sculpture

    The work carries the environmental message that the human race is treating the earth with contempt and that we are effectively placing the planet itself in the rubbish bin.
    The work is a development of a concept that I had in about the year 2000, when I produced several environment-themed drawings of the earth falling into a wastepaper basket. The sculptural potential of using a real rubbish bin to create an illusion of outer space is a more recent development.

    A version of this work was shown in my solo show at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall in 2022 and was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in the same year.

    Below is a video of the work showing the dramatic optical illusion effect of the work which can only be appreciated in three dimensions of on video.

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  • Art and science – String Theory with nylon cord and mirrors

    Art and science -infinity mirror effect - optics and perception

    String Theory

    Mirrors, cord and light source: January 2017. W=30cm H=30cm

    A study for a work composed of mirrors that are configured so that they create reflections round a symmetrical axis and also create reflections in infinite regression.
    The reflected object in this work is a single short length of coloured cord (about 40cm long), made to appear much longer by the multiple reflections in the mirrors. The cord is brightly coloured and is lit by a directional light source which gives the cord the effect of being a pulsating energy stream in a containment vessel, perhaps in a high energy physics laboratory.
    This work brings together my interests in art and science, especially the science of optics and perception.

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  • Perception and deception. Odd shoes reflected in a mirror

    Humorous contemporary art - a mirror with the reflection of a shoe

    Perception and deception. Odd shoes reflected in a mirror

    Shoes, mirror. January 2013

    Part of a series of works involving the reflection of shoes in a mirror, with the shoes positioned so that the reflection of each shoe in the mirror coincides exactly with the other shoe on the opposite side of the mirror.
    In this work the shoes involved are not a pair.
    This creates a double dissonance in the viewer. Firstly the viewer has to interpret the fact that the reflected part of the shoe is not part of the other shoe, and secondly the viewer has to interpret the fact that the two shoes are different (with the degree of difference varying depending on the position of the viewer and thus the amount of the shoe that is behind the mirror that is visible).
    Like a lot of my works that involve mirrors, reflections, perception and optical illusions this one explores the line between reality and our interpretation of what we perceive. Hopefully it includes an element of humour too.

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