Note: This is a guest post by Riley MacPhee, a regular contributor to the Johnston Architects Blog. Johnston Architects PLLC is a small architectural firm focusing on creative, innovative, and sustainable design throughout the West. You can see their designs and learn more about their work at the Johnston Architects website.
To walk into a space exhibiting the art of Felice Varini is to be confused. You’ll immediately notice vaguely geometric, monocolor shapes stretching and sprawling across the room, but you won’t be able to determine any kind of method to the apparent madness. Varini’s work looks like interesting, abstract art superimposed on an architectural space.
But if you walk around and explore the space a little more, you’ll start to notice that the shapes change as you move. The more you move, and the more you stare at them, the more you’ll start to realize that there’s something you aren’t getting. But then, suddenly you’ll arrive at a spot where everything comes together with startling clarity, and you’ll realize that you’re looking at a brilliantly composed perspective work that seems to pop out of the scene and hover eerily in front of it.
Varini’s work is really the opposite of a stereogram: a series of unintelligible figures painted across three dimensions, that when seen in just the right way, flatten themselves into a mind-bending 2D shape.
Varini is a Swiss artist who currently lives in Paris, and has done dozens and dozens of these types of installations. He thinks of his works comprehensively, not just from the single point where they come together:
“The viewer can be present in the work, but as far as I am concerned he may go through it without noticing the painting at all. If he is aware of the work, he might observe it from the vantage point and see the complete shape. But he might look from other points of views where he will not be able to understand the painting because the shapes will be fragmented and the work too abstract. Whichever way, that is ok with me.”
“If you draw a circle on a flat canvas it will always look the same. The drawn circle will retain the flatness of the canvas. This kind of working is very limiting to me, so I project a circle onto spaces, onto walls or mountain sides, and then the circle’s shape is altered naturally because the ‘canvas’ is not flat. A mountain side has curves that affect the circle, and change the circle’s geometry. So, I do not need to portray complicated forms in my paintings. I can just use the simplicity of forms, because the reality out there distorts forms in any case, and creates variations on its own accord.”
“The same goes for colours. Usually I use one colour only, and the space takes care of altering the colour’s hue. For example, if I use one type of red colour on a mountain side, the result is many kinds of red, depending on the mountain’s surface and the light conditions. Sunlight will affect the different areas on the surface and the same red colour may become stronger or darker or clearer in certain areas, depending on how the sun rays hit the surface. The sky can be bright or dark. And if the surface has its own colour or a few colours then that will affect the red that I apply on it. So, I do not need to use sophisticated colours.”
But the latest, and perhaps greatest, of Varini’s “paintings” is his work in the village of Vercorin, in the Swiss Alps. The project is called Cercle et suite d’éclats, and features around two dozen white circles superimposed on the beautiful old buildings. Like most of his projects, Varini used a projector to display the image on the landscape, and then used a team of helpers to trace and paint the circles using a metalic paint.
The finished effect is stunning from a certain vantage point; the whole village is reduced to a two-dimensional space. These pictures hardly do the project justice though. Check out the official panorama view from Varini’s website to get the full, breathtaking effect.
What I love about Varini is how he incorporates three-dimensional architectural and natural spaces into his art. It’s hard not to draw parallels between Varini’s work and the architectural projection mapping featured on the Johnston Architects blog back in April (Building Art: Bringing Architecture to Life). While the guys at URBANSCREEN turned essentially two-dimensional buildings into moving, three-dimensional sculptures, Varini paints the existing three-dimensional landscape, transforming it into a static, two-dimensional projection.
I also like the relationship between the immense scale of Varini works, and the incredibly precise vantage point at which they “come together.” The vast majority of Varini’s projects are abstract, but if you happen upon that one, unmarked, unremarkable coordinate, they become something else entirely. It’s like secret perspective embedded in an abstract landscape. It makes the viewer work to understand the piece, and develop a more intimate and personal relationship with the space. That, I think, is the real appeal and genius to Varini.
You can view photos of all of Felice Varini’s many projects on his website, although the site is in French – just click “Index Chronologique.”
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