In 1984, American artist Kurt Wenner found that when he mixed his love for classical street art with his understanding of geometrics, he produced an entirely new art form – 3D pavement art.
For the past 35 years, Wenner has led the 3D pavement art movement, creating incredible illusions on streets and footpaths around the world that are making people question reality. Each piece seems to reach endlessly into the pits of the Earth when they are, in fact, only surface level.
INSIDER spoke with Wenner to learn more about 3D pavement art and what it takes to create one of these masterpieces.
Pavement art dates back to the 16th century in Europe, but Wenner put a modern twist on it by creating 3D illusions.
In 1984, Wenner combined his classical art training and his understanding of illusions to create 3D pavement art, which is also known as anamorphic or illusionistic art. This art form makes images appear to rise from or fall into the ground.
He’s has created masterpieces in countries all over the world, from New York City to Dubai.
“My artistic motivation is to rediscover, transform, and share insights from the past,” he wrote on his site. “I have been fortunate to be able to share my work with millions of people and hope that it will inspire artists and the public to delve into the patrimony of European Art so they can find the wealth of ideas that are so often hidden with the passage of time.”
Wenner combines classical art techniques with 3D elements.
“I originally conceived of the art form as a way to demonstrate the process of classical drawing in front of an audience,” Wenner told INSIDER. “I soon found that my new perspective geometry allowed me to revisit traditional classical themes in a fresh and original way. The geometry of the perspective space also informs the structure of classical drawing, so I achieve a special harmony by using classical themes and forms.”
He had to figure out special angles so that his art would appear 3D from a very close distance.
“The composition extends the actual physical surfaces of floors and walls into an imagined three-dimensional space,” he explained. “To achieve this, I must distort most of the forms I draw so that they appear normal from one position. I am not generally in this position, so the forms I paint appear distorted to me while I am working on them.”
He uses chalk and pastels to “respect the tradition” — these installations are not meant to be permanent.
“Pavement artists traditionally use chalk and/or pastels to create their works. The reason for this is that the works are meant to wash off and leave the space clean when the event is over,” he said. “Today the works can be impermanent or durable, depending on the event. I still create all of the work by hand and most often use pastels.”
But he also started using digital techniques to create his otherworldly masterpieces.
For this piece in the Belgian Underground, for instance, he prepared some scenery digitally in a studio, but created Alice herself using his chalk on-site.
He creates parts of his final piece in a studio, transferring these onto a canvas he uses to enhance his chalk art.
“The artworks must tell a story within the constraints of a real space and involving real people- both as spectators and participants,” Wenner said.
Some works are interactive, like “Incident at Waterloo.”
Wenner created the “Incident at Waterloo” at the Waterloo Station in London for a publicity event. Spectators could lounge on one of the couches that he included in the floor and wall masterpiece.
“Runway Stagecoach” was also interactive.
Wenner’s “Runaway Stagecoach” in Istanbul, Turkey, is a crowd favourite.
Even the Pope loves Wenner’s work, declaring it “Sacred Art”
Wenner worked with 30 street painters for 10 straight days to create the 15 foot by 75 foot “Last Judgment” piece to honour Pope John Paul II’s arrival in Mantua, Italy. The Pope himself signed the mural, sanctioning it “Sacred Art.”
Wenner’s favourite piece to date is “Dies Irae” in Mantuna, Italy.
“It was the earliest piece that established the art form, and it went viral and became iconic on the internet,” he said. “I like it because it was my original artist’s statement.”
He says he likes to focus on four common themes: historical, spiritual, literary, and mythological.
“I also prefer to use themes that are universal and timeless so that the images might also stand the test of time,” he explained.
“Nativity” represents his passion for the spiritual.
Wenner created this life-size replica of the Nativity scene at the Xanadu Commercial Center in Madrid, Spain.
His adaptation of “Spider-Man” is a great example of his literary passions.
He created “Spider-Man” for Universal Studios in Japan.
Meanwhile, “The Tall Ship” is just one example of history in his work.
“The Tall Ship” was made to mark the historical 150 anniversary of the opening of the Yokohama Port in Japan.
But his slithering “Sea Dragon” is the best representation of his fascination with the mythological.
Wenner’s “Sea Dragon” was made in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Wenner said he believes his work is proof that “creativity and intelligence are fundamental features of the universe.”
“In my view, Western European classical art is rooted in a profound desire to understand and express universal principles of creative expression,” he explained. “My aesthetic is based on the idea that beauty is an expression of these universal principles.”
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