Filter / Gauge / Matt McGillvray / Painting / Photography

Realism Part 1: The Illusion


Welcome back to Filter/Gauge! To all of my weekly readers, sorry for the break, partially it is because I have been quite busy, but mostly it is because I have had a terrible case of writer’s block. I decided to take a little break to decide what I wanted to do going forward with Filter/Gauge. Mostly, I want to curate while avoiding the trap of becoming one of those blogs that people go to to see 20-mind-blowing-images-you-won’t-believe-aren’t-real-like blog posts. I can’t stand those and we have enough of them already. What I want to do is curate with more context; context, as you may know,  is a central theme for F/G—so is curation and community. I am not exactly sure what that will look like, or if it will always look the same, but this week begins a series about Realism in art; specifically, the relationship between Realism and illusion. Allow me to clarify, because I can see the question forming in your head already—all Realist art is an illusion of some sort, so what is different about this week? Typically, Realist art is painted or drawn—photographs are Realist as well but they are not representative, at least not in the sense of having nothing and utilizing a skill to make a realistic image out of a blank canvas. Realist photography is not illusion (most of the time). So that being said, this week is about artists that create the illusion of reality using non-traditional means, or who use reality to fool the viewer by taking advantage of our preconceived notions about what is real. None of the art is anything that you could walk up to in a museum and point out the brushstrokes.

To backtrack for a moment, Realism is a term used in art that has numerous definitions. At it it’s most basic definition, Realism—in the world of visual art—is any type of image, two or three dimensional, that depicts something in non-idealized (realistic) manner. At one point in time, Realism—or Naturalism, as it is sometimes called—was also decidedly non-fictional, or maybe more precisely, non-fantastical. Historical events and posed models alike were both a normal part of realistic works, but eventually Realism has come to include imagery that looks like it fits in our natural world, even if doesn’t actually exist.

So after all that, everything that you see this week is Realist, but non-traditional; all of the tenets of Realism is there, but there is a twist, whether it is just the medium or the concept. Enjoy!


Den Brooks is the first artist this week and his images will already have you wondering if I have accidentally chosen a photo. Brooks is head of the 3D production department at SoftFacade in NYC. A classic car enthusiast, his favorites are cars from the 60’s and 70’s, like the 1970 Plymouth Fury (pictured below) and the c1 and c2 Corvette StingRay (pictured farther below). Brooks has created all of these images using software like 3DS Max, Vray, and AE to create wonderfully detailed renders of classic cars, kitchens, machinery, and more. At first glance I did not believe that these were generated by a program, but that is a testament to Brooks’ attentiveness to detail.



Not only has each detail of whatever it is that he is making rendered faithfully, but his pictures taken within those renders are equally impressive. To take a photo of something that exists is one thing but to move around in simulated space and emulate an actual camera. Depth of field is considered to really give these renders a more realistic sense of scale, and the compositions, depth, and details—like film grain—lead to the illusion of looking at something real.







James Hastie is the next artist and his illusionary tactic might be harder to spot. The work shown below is entirely collages. A note: Hastie’s website is no longer working and so all of the info that I have on him is from the (amazing) blog, It’s Nice That; look at the post here. Hastie’s project—aptly titled Collages—is the end result of a process that involves essentially creating another world; a serene, idealized world from bits and pieces of reality. Each photo is carefully curated and elements like cars, people, trees, etc. are removed to make way for blocks of color, lines, patterns, and textures. In his own words, “The essence, in a measly sentence, of surrealism is to take something familiar and to give it qualities that don’t quite make sense to our “everyday.” This is what I try to do, as I find its persuasive sensibilities make for a intriguing way to view the world.”


When you look at Collages and see these landscapes, then realize that they do not actually exist and that they are, in fact, part of a surrealist vision to manipulate elements from our world into a more defined, less messy version of what we know, then you can see what I mean by illusion as realism. Basically, these photos are collaged into an image that looks like the vernacular for today’s “artsy” photography: postmodern with a balance between composed and spontaneous. Hastie has recreated that attitude and convention into his created worlds to combine surrealism and realism in the same way that he would combine and collage multiple images to make a new one, and has done so masterfully.








This next project is one that might trick you at first. Do you remember Thomas Doyle and his amazing detailed sculptures? You would be excused if you thought that our next artist, Mike Hunter, does that same thing. What you might see at first in the images below is miniature worlds, populated with the ever ubiquitous green army men for scale. You would be incorrect. The army men are actual people, and the worlds themselves are at a 1:1 scale because those too are real. Hunter uses a feature that has become popular* these days called tilt-shift to alter our perception of space. Hunter chooses spaces that have an air of artificialness to them, and then sets up his shots and merely by adjusting the level of blur he can cause us to think that the space is a scaled down version of real life.


Hunter’s photos are a great example of what I mean when I state that illusion is an integral part of Realism; in this case it reinforces the idea by emphasizing the inverse of it—Realism can be used to enhance illusion. I love Hunter’s execution of that concept in this project.

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Michael Wolf

Lastly, this week we have photographer Michael Wolf. Whereas we just saw Mike Hunter use the illusion of scale to alter our perception of reality, Wolf, in a project titled The Architecture of Density eliminates scale and context to abstract the image and create doubt in our minds. These buildings are, in fact, real and can be found in or around Hong Kong (click here to see an example). I cannot fully wrap my mind around how densely packed these people must be in these buildings, but of course, that seems to be Wolf’s point. Wolf’s portfolio is filled with evocative projects that reveal a lot about a city like Hong Kong or New York City and how the majority of its people live.


In a world so familiar with Photoshop it would not be uncommon to assume that these have received some attention from the ubiquitous program. To be certain, these buildings are real and they are not a rarity in a city like Hong Kong. No, Wolf’s illusion is the removing of the original context; in his own words with Wired Magazine¹: “At some point I just took a photograph and I folded away the sky and the horizon until I just had the pure architecture. I realized it was a very effective visual effect,” he explains. “By removing the context, viewers have no idea how big these building actually are.” It’s easy to imagine that the buildings Wolf shoots could easily rise another 40 stories, though it’s impossible to really know. “It gives you this illusion of almost endless size,” he says.

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Again, thanks for coming back to read the new post, I hope that there was at least one new artist for you to enjoy and look for more pieces in this series in the weeks to come.

*For another artist who is ridiculously skilled at fooling us with scale as well, check out Michael Paul Smith.

¹Wired Magazine







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