Picture yourself walking on your daily routines and stumbling on a huge hole on the ground which only yesterday wasn’t just there. You falter, doubt your senses and feel a vague sensation of dizziness while you freeze your steps for fear of falling into it. At a second and more attentive observation, however, you realize to your bewilderment that what lies on the pavement right under your eyes is but a 3D drawing that looks so realistic you could swear, at first sight, that it was, in fact, a hole.
That is the effect produced by anamorphic illusions, which are drawn with a special distortion in order to create an impression of three dimensions when seen from a particular viewpoint. This kind of technique can be taken even further when the chalk painting, the pavement and the architectural surroundings become part of an all-encompassing illusion in what is often called “Slant Art”. And that is exactly what Julian Beever, an English, Belgium-based chalk artist has been doing on pavements throughout the world since the mid-1990s. Nicknamed as the “Pavement Picasso”, this immediately gives us an idea of the quality of his art. His choice for transient art works drawn on sidewalks probably reflects his wish to share them with the common city dwellers, who are either too busy or too absorbed by everyday concerns – including lack of money or time to spend in museum visits – and to offer them a fleeting moment of sheer enjoyment.
His compositions, deeply impressing for their realistic aspect and their beauty, literally fascinate viewers who cannot avoid getting closer in a tentative way to test the reality of the situation depicted. In fact, it is possible for people to position themselves within the image as if they were interacting with the scene or actually belonged to it.
This kind of evanescent art product can only gain permanence if captured through photography, which inevitably reminds us of André Malraux when he referred to the “museum without walls”, in the sense that art had been made available to everybody precisely through its reproduction in photographs. Julian Beever, however, seems to go a step beyond that, insofar as he – like other artists producing temporary art works – seems to defy the art market and to challenge museums by exclusively creating ephemeral art on unlikely backgrounds such as sidewalks or pavements. And Beever’s assertion is made even stronger, since he makes it a point to always pose for a photograph in the least expected postures by his creations once they have been finished, in what could be regarded as his very own way of imposing his signature on his works.
Ultimately, these artistic creations are born to have but a fleeting moment of glory in their short cycle of life, when they achieve an illusory timelessness through photography. Their fate, however, is to be trodden on by pedestrians, washed away by rain, swept by the winds or simply decomposed by time, in a statement of our impermanence in life.
Borrowing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s words in his work The Poison Belt, these art works – just as our lives – are “rather an alteration of perspective, a shifting of our sense of proportion, a vivid realization that we are insignificant and evanescent creatures, existing on sufferance and at the mercy of the first chill wind from the unknown”.