Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Felice Varini – Cardiff Bay

NolionsInEngland except: Tracy Lee Stum, Creative Tempest, iJuliAn, cgr v2.0

Tis the season to reminisce and having just past the shortest day of the year my bones fondly recall the warmth of a gorgeous late Summer’s day in Cardiff when I came across a stunning piece of “trick of the eye” art by Felice Varini.

Felice Varini: Three Elipses For Three Locks

The technical term is "anamorphic", it's an ugly charmless looking word, clumsy on the page and a bugger to explain yet what it defines can be amazing. We understand it mainly from the context in which it is used and that, so far as street art is concerned, is generally those road and shopping mall 3D illusions of gaping chasms where smooth tarmac or faux-marble should be.

"Hot Asphalt", art and photo: Tracy Lee Stum

Kurt Wenner
Chalk Painting: Kurt Wenner, photo: Creative Tempest

Anamorphic art also defines the work of Felice Varini who paints contours, surfaces, corners and crannies in a way so that from one precise viewpoint, the whole thing appears like a flat, continuous and proportionate image. It seems most of his work is done indoors but here are a couple of favourite examples of Varini in the wilds outdoors:

Felice Varini, "Cinq ellipses ouvertes”, Metz, 2009; photo: iJuliAn

Felice Varini: Entre el cielo y la tierra 1
Felice Varini, "Entre Ciel et Terre", 2005; photo cgr v2.0

Back to Cardiff, a rare return to the land of my fathers, I was gobsmacked to find out his “Three Ellipses For Three Locks” was created over about 10 days back in mid March 2007.

It hardly need be said that a lot of maths must go into calculating the geometry to fit into the available structures, and then a lot of surveying to determine exactly where to paint. The shapes appear as perfect closed ellipses except for one small section where techniques for painting permanently on water are not yet sufficiently evolved. The optical illusion persuades the eye that the shapes are perfect ellipses painted on a transparent vertical plane in front of the viewer, they actually appear to lift off the surface on which they are painted and sit in mid air. The effect is giddying, this is high impact art, who needs drugs huh?

As the painted surface recedes and the line leaps from a surface 10m away to a plane 50m away the visual connection is seamless, the line retains precisely the same thickness so far as the viewer is concerned.


The trompe l’oeil effect works properly at just one precise point at a bridge crossing a lock system letting yachts in and out of Cardiff Bay, the now dammed estuary where the Rivers Taff and Ely flow out to meet the Bristol Channel. Moving around shows the amazing effects created by the painted lines.


No paint is wasted, the effects of shadows cast by intervening structures are themselves intriguing abstracts, check the real and the Varini shadows thrown by this bench.



Many will be familiar with the fact that the Bristol Channel has the second largest tidal rise and fall in the World. The depth of the lock system necessary to accommodate this huge range can be seen in this shot of the furthest extremity of the Varini circles.


Smart-arses and Barnacle Bills reading this far (ha ha!) may object that the last paragraph tells the average reader who isn’t a member of Cardiff Bay Yacht Club nothing without further information on how long before or after low tide the photo was taken but what do you expect, an Ocean Yachtmaster lesson as well as art??

More examples of Felice Varini’s work on his website here.

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