Mind-Bending Optical Illusions Are Inspired by Renaissance Technology
Images courtesy the artist.
optical illusions

Mind-Bending Optical Illusions Are Inspired by Renaissance Technology

Jonty Hurwitz makes mesmerizing sculptures using techniques pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci and other old masters.
June 28, 2017, 4:02pm

Traditionally, artists like Hans Holbein the Younger and Leonardo da Vinci created distorted anamorphic imagery in their classical paintings. Contemporarily, it's a technique that has been explored in a Twin Peaks-themed mural and an optical illusion selfie stick. But in the work of artist and creative technologist Jonty Hurwitz, anamorphic imagery takes center stage as moving sculptures that use reflective surfaces to reveal optical illusions. Typically, Hurwitz attaches an amorphous sculptural image to a reflective metal column in what is known as mirror anamorphosis. When set in motion and viewed from a certain angle, the image becomes clear.


Hurwitz tells Creators that his artwork grew from a dual interest in technology and art. In the early 90s, he expressed his creativity through engineering, creating one of the first internet service providers in the UK and building some of the very first websites, which were soon rendered aesthetically and technically obsolete. Hurwitz longed to create work with permanence.

"I wanted to build something a bit more solid in my hands," he says. "I was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci work, Leonardo's Eye. I noticed this first known anamorphic drawing and was absolutely blown away by it. It was an anamorphic eye. I set out to replicate that in the modern world."

Hurwitz quickly realized that humans are at a point in history in which technology is powerful enough to achieve anamorphic imagery sculpturally. One only needed serious processing power and solid mathematics to make it happen.

To fabricate his anamorphic sculptures, Hurwitz models his work mostly by hand but sometimes with software. From there, things get more collaborative. He disputes the idea of the lone genius artist working in a backroom on masterpieces, and instead embraces the notion that the artistic process is much more analogous to filmmaking, where many teams of people are required to create a single work.

"One aspect of it might be the software, depending on the piece, but then there will be aspects that are fabricated in foundries using 3,000-year-old techniques with boiling hot metals," says Hurwitz. "There will be other aspects that are CNC (Computer Numerical Control) routed in a machine shop that produces precision bolts for drones. Another aspect of it will be heated in some special oven to get a special texture that is used for ceramics."

While Hurwitz is interested in the optical illusion aspect of anamorphic art, he emphasizes that the work is much more about metaphor. For him, it's about multiple realities existing in a single space.

"We establish a reality for ourselves, and you start to convince yourself that that reality is the truth, but actually you could look at that reality in a different way and realize that there is a completely different truth occupying that same space," he says. "And, in a way, that's what my art is trying to capture: two completely different truths in one space, sometimes more."

This mindset recently found expression in the piece What Do You Believe?, which looks like a stalactite from most angles, but when viewed from the right orientation an anamorphic skull appears. This work finds Hurwitz challenging the binary notion of death. Shaken by a friend's recent passing, Hurwitz wanted to examine the transition from life to death. It was an opportunity to explore the movement from one reality to another.

"On one point you're seeing the skull, and then you move almost in a non-binary way, in an analogue way, into a completely different reality where you're seeing this Holbein-esque painting," says Hurwtiz. "It's a tribute to the work that he did: a response and a thank you to him."