Abstract illusionism, a name coined by art historian and critic Barbara Rose, is an artistic movement that came into prominence in the United States during the mid-1970s. Works consisted of both hard-edge and expressionistic abstract painting styles that employed the use of perspective, artificial light sources, and simulated cast shadows to achieve the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Abstract Illusionism differed from traditional Trompe-l'œil (fool the eye) art in that the pictorial space seemed to project in front of, or away from, the canvas surface, as opposed to receding into the picture plane as in traditional painting. Primarily, though, these were abstract paintings, as opposed to the realism of Trompe L'oeil. By the early 1980s, many of the visual devices that originated in Abstract Illusionism were appropriated into the commercial world and served a wide variety of applications in graphic design, fabric design and the unlikely decoration of recreational vehicles. This proliferation of Abstract Illusionist imagery eventually led to the disintegration of the original artistic movement and its transition into the mainstream.
Pre-1970 forerunners and practitioners of the style include Ronald Davis, Allan D'Arcangelo, and Al Held. Documented artists associated with the 1970s Abstract Illusionism movement include James Havard, Jack Lembeck, Tony King, George D. Green, Michael B. Gallagher, Jack Reilly and Richard Johnson.
The first major museum exhibitions to survey Abstract Illusionism were "Abstract Illusionism," Paul Mellon Arts Center, Wallingford, CT, 1977; "Seven New York Artists (Abstract Illusionism)", Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University, Houston, TX, 1977; "Breaking the Picture Plane," Tomasulo Gallery, Union College, Cranford, NJ; and "The Reality of Illusion", which originated in 1979 at the Denver Art Museum and traveled to the Oakland Museum, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University, the University of Southern California, and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
In 1972 the English critic Bryan Robertson also used the term “Abstract Illusionism” to characterize sculptures by Kenneth Draper, Nigel Hall and William Tucker and paintings by Paul Huxley and Bridget Riley.
General references to text above
- Barbara Rose. Abstract Illusionism. Artforum, October 1967, pp. 33–37.
- Brewer, Donald. Reality of Illusion, American Art Review Press, 1979, ISBN 0-9602974-0-5
- Blaine, Michael. "Complexities of Illusion", Artweek, May, 1980
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