All images created by and courtesy of the artist.
Meet Artist Kurt Wenner
Kurt Wenner is one of the world’s leading artists, most famous for inventing interactive 3D art illusions. His work has appeared in more than 30 countries, and in 1991 he received the Kennedy Center Medallion for his outstanding contribution to art education.
In the 1980s, he left his job at NASA and moved to Europe to study the great works of art. By unlocking long lost secrets of geometry and proportion, he conceived the idea for his 3D images. He went on to pioneer bringing art outdoors to the public, as well as making it interactive.
Wenner’s body of work also includes large-scale oil paintings, ceramic murals, sculptures, illusion rooms, and architectural design. Most of this work is found in private estates of some of the world’s most wealthy and famous personalities.
His expertise, innovation, and artistry across so many mediums makes Wenner’s work unrivaled.
Kurt Wenner was raised in Santa Barbara, California, an area with beautiful architecture and stunning gardens. These influences set him on a path seeking the connection that tied things of beauty together.
As a boy, he transformed his parent’s hand-cut stone garage into an art studio. It was a popular neighborhood hang-out, and Wenner would help kids of all ages create inventions and paintings, or sculpt imaginative characters out of clay. By the time he was 16, he had worked in graphic arts and received his first mural commission.
After high school, still inspired by the skill and beauty of master drawings, he sought instruction at the top art schools attending RISD in Rhode Island and then Art Center in California. While at Art Center he was recruited by NASA to work as an advanced space illustrator. He was among the last highly-skilled artists whose work was done solely by hand.
In 1982 he left NASA and moved to Rome, Italy, in pursuit of understanding how great drawings and paintings of the past were created. To his astonishment, he discovered no one there was teaching the principles of classicism.
Disappointed to find the Italians couldn’t explain how their magnificent art and architecture were made, he devised a self-study program. He settled in a pensione facing the Pantheon and set off each morning for the Vatican Museums. He spent countless hours drawing from the magnificent art collection. Museum guards and passing tourists bought his drawings on the spot, enabling him to support his stay in Rome.
Eventually, through drawing the masterpieces, he realized classicism was a visual language of form traditionally learned by copying earlier works of art. Twentieth-century critics disdained the classical tradition as imitative – yet we acquire all languages through imitation. Unfortunately, they failed to see what could be achieved once the skill set was mastered.
On his way to the Vatican each day, he would pass artists his age creating images with chalk on the pavement. Stopping to chat with one on his way home, he was invited him to try his hand at the art form. Within the year he invented 3D pavement art.
News of this new art form traveled fast, and National Geographic arrived in Italy to make a documentary of his work. The crew also went to Switzerland where they captured the many challenges faced, including rain, while creating a large pastel image outdoors. The documentary, Masterpieces in Chalk, won numerous awards and introduced Wenner and his 3D pavement art to the world.
Over the years, his images have captivated audiences in more than 30 countries. The immense popularity of his work led to the opening of the 3D Museum of Wonders in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a 27,000 square foot (2,500 square meters) exhibit space dedicated solely to his interactive images.
In addition to his art, he has been an inspirational speaker at corporate and public events, a lecturer for the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a workshop leader for Disney and Warner Brothers Studios. Hoping to inspire a love of classicism in a new generation, he taught more than 100,000 students over ten years. In 1991, he received the Kennedy Center Medallion in recognition of his contribution to arts education.
Kurt Wenner’s mastery of classicism gives him the ability to work across all fields and mediums. His body of work includes architectural designs, large-scale oil paintings, ceramic murals, sculptures, illusion rooms, fountains, and more. Most of his permanent work is in the private estates of the world’s most wealthy and famous personalities.
Although he continues to cover the globe, now and then you will find him at the hotel that used to be his pensione in the heart of Rome. [bio courtesy kurtwenner.com]
Can you describe your art?
I am an American artist living in Italy, most known for inventing 3D Interactive Pavement Art. This art form uses a hyperbolic anamorphic illusion that transforms a pastel drawing on the pavement into a 3-dimensional illusion. My images often appear in textbooks to illustrate mathematical principles, perception, perspective, or other arts and science-related topics.
In addition, I have spent years doing commissioned works of architectural design, sculpture, murals, and other interior decorations for luxury homes. I have done a large amount of scared art as well.
How is your art used for teaching?
As a young artist I taught more than 100,000 students, usually using pavement art as the medium. I taught professional artists at Disney and Warner Brothers studios more complex problems of drawing, color, and perspective. Presently, I hope to use my body of work as an example of creative process. I want to synthesize my years of research to promote a new way of thinking about arts education.
A problem in our time is the extolling of art for the expression of the individual ego. Society awards a version of originality that is predicated on self-expression, usually referring to an ego-based concept of self. I hope to make young artists aware of and interested in exploring a wider vision of culture and history.
Please tell us about “The Geometry of Creativity."
My book The Geometry of Creativity began by exploring geometry as a creative process. Simply put, it describes the process of establishing a geometrical drawing from a blank surface and describing the actions that take place as the geometrical figures become increasingly complex.
The process of writing the book led me to the discovery of five creative principles that replace the postulates and axioms (assumptions) of Euclid with an intense symbolic meaning. The principles are Unity, Duality, Polarity, Equilibrium, and Proportion. These five principles each have a finite and infinite aspect. They describe in perfect order the first ten actions needed to establish any geometrical drawing.
The tools of geometry (the surface, stylus, compass, straightedge, T-Square and Triangle) are physical manifestations of these five principles. Any geometrical drawing created by these tools is incorporating these principles.There is a huge body of work that we can loosely group under the heading of “sacred geometry.” These texts trace the symbolic meaning behind geometrical figures and particular ratios or proportions, notably the Golden Section. Writers in this area of study tend to be intuitive, visionary, and very wordy.
The book synthesizes thousands of years of theory, revelation, and speculation into a rational and useful manual for creating. It also incorporates 20th century discoveries such as fractals and tessellation. It describes for the first time the relationship between Renaissance master drawing and the creative principles. The book describes for the first time the process of proportioning art and architecture in the ancient world. It shows how geometry can be used in digital color interfaces and color organization. Finally, the book explores optics, perspective, and illusion.
Process thought teaches us that the world is not fragmented. Can you share how geometry and art are related?
The use of geometry in art is well documented. Obvious applications are in decorative design, perspective drawing, and architecture. In these applications the geometrical structure generally remains visible in the work. Less obvious is the geometrical basis of classical drawing and color management. Even more hidden is the enormous quantity of geometry in computer graphics and imaging programs.
Most importantly, geometrical forms are ubiquitous in Nature. Much of the history of art is the attempt to capture the creative process used by Nature and utilize it for humanity.
What is your creative process?
My creative process is very straightforward. Once I have an idea in mind, I begin with geometry. I establish a 3-Dimensional relationship between the proposed artwork, its environment, and the position of a spectator. I may make a model for this. I begin with sketching, usually on a very small scale, (sometimes called a thumbnail).
Using overlays, or scanning, enlarging, and printing the sketch, I create more refined versions of the line drawing. When the line drawing is clear enough, I scan it and print it on tonal paper. I then create a tonal drawing, working up in value to white highlights and down through earth red, dark brown and black. I might use grays to indicate distance, but never work with color.
The tonal drawing is usually presented to a client, because most of my work is in the form of large-scaled commissions. From the tonal drawing I can sculpt, create architectural elements, or paint in pastel, oil or any other medium.
What else would you like to share about your work?
I have spent most of my career as a researcher. I have studied incredibly effective creative processes in history that contemporary arts thinkers deemed irrelevant to art our time. From these traditions I crafted an original form of expression that has influenced hundreds of young artists. My goal is to share more thoroughly my findings with an even broader audience.
Artistic geometry and Renaissance classicism are my two passions. My interest in them grew out of learning how to draw as artists did five-hundred years ago. I’m especially fascinated with how ideas and concepts are transformed through the centuries, flourishing one moment then ignored and lost in others. My artistic motivation is to show how classicism, which is a skill set based on the workings of nature, is vital to our world today. Western Civilization has left a rich heritage that we’ve overlooked for centuries. It’s a cultural tragedy when knowledge is lost, and through my art and teaching, I work to bring it back to life.