I believe that knowing fantasy from reality is essential to being human. In daily life, we are constantly confronted by all kinds of facts and we use the imagination, our creative mind, to cope with them. This is a basic human trait. Reality and fantasy, fiction and non-fiction, however (one implies the other) are closely related. And because we do not inhabit a black and white world, we sometimes dwell in a twilight zone.
The language of art is ideally suited to giving expression to this twilight zone. The blurry boundaries between reality and fantasy are literally given space in art. In literature, film, visual arts and dance we use our imagination in one way or another to cope with reality, to change it, or to completely undermine it. The artist mediates this process.
We might also choose to relinquish control actively, for example through recreational drug use, which can produce blurry images, the illusion of multiple or different dimensions and the blurring of the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
The blurry lines between reality and fiction are clearly visible in Street Art. Who doesn’t remember the portrait of Johnny Depp, in the role of Raoul Duke in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, portrayed by Insane 51. Out of focus as the image appears, this impressive work visualizes the mental state of Duke by giving it the illusion of movement. Interestingly, the same method is used by the 17th-century painter Frans Hals, as seen in his painting “The cheerful drinker”. With his quick, loose and especially spontaneous brush treatment, with short movements producing a multitude of blurry lines, he creates a lively and agile impression that appears extremely lifelike.
Jerkface takes it a step further. Take a look at his Doreamon and Felix the Cat cartoons… with his transparencies, repetitions and overlays, he creates the illusion of space, movement and sound. You can almost hear the cat whistling and Doraemon laughing, like in a soundpoem.
Fantasy vs Reality
Fantasy vs reality also plays an important role in the work of Dutch artist Super A. In his latest painting, now visible at POW! WOW! in Rotterdam, he shows the transformation of Pinocchio (fantasy) to “a real boy”, in this case, his son. The wall depicts Pinocchio (as a sort of outer layer) with the real boy underneath. The two gradations, fiction and non-fiction, are easy to identify.
Photo’s by @ccartlover
But what if you live in a society in which the distinction between fact and fiction is not so obvious anymore? We live in a world of fake news, deep fakes, Face-Swaps and other filters that make it increasingly difficult to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction.
Do we see this trend – which demands that we keep asking ourselves whether what we see, read or hear is true – reflected in Street Art?
The answer is yes.
The works mentioned above visualize different layers and dimensions between reality and fantasy, but the gray area between the two can also be rendered more subtly. Consider, for example, the beautiful bird made by the Dutch artist Dopie for the “If Walls Could Speak” project in Amsterdam. The hyper-realistic style invites you to believe what you see to be true, but here too the boundaries between reality and fantasy are soft. In fact, two types of birds (parakeet and sparrow) are mixed (like in a Face Swap) in a way that is not immediately apparent. And with purpose: the symbiosis of the old, well-known house sparrow with the relative new species in the city, the parakeet, here symbolizes the merging of cultures.
Photo by Tim van Vliet
Photo by Lewis Duncan
Or think of the works of the abovementioned Insane 51, which require 3D glasses to appreciate fully. In these works the Greek artist layers two different representations, one blue and one red, over each other (also known as “double exposure 3D”). If you want to see the versions separately, you need to put on 3D glasses and close one eye or the other to see either the red layer or the blue one (see images). The paintings can also be appreciated with the naked eye, but the 3D illusion only becomes apparent with the help of the glasses.
Here, as elsewhere, Street Art reflects the main issues of our time. The blurring of boundaries between the real and the unreal in our current society makes it difficult for us to distinguish between these abstractions.
And that is where the artist comes in. By creating emotions and states of mind with different lines, suggesting the illusion of space, time and even sound, and by emphasizing or concealing the blurring boundaries between reality and fantasy, the artist catches the otherwise uncatchable in our societies and puts it on display for all to see, and to reflect on.