Trompe l’oeil (‘trick of the eye’) is the term used for the technique of using realistic imagery to create an optical illusion of depth. Artists have been practising it for centuries to create stunning illustrations and fool their audiences, while businesses have used it to create eye-catching billboard advertising and video campaigns. And these brilliant examples of trompe l’oeil are no exception. Prepare to be amazed!
Artist John Pugh is famous for his intricate trompe l’oeil murals, located on various buildings around the world. “I have found that the ‘language’ of life-size illusions allow me to communicate with a very large audience,” says Pugh. “It seems almost universal that people take delight in being visually tricked.” This one, a terrifying imagining of South American feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl, can be found on a cable car station in Mexico City.
The A.FRESCO workshop, led by artist Patrick Commecy, has made a name for itself and won awards in France by bringing otherwise drab walls to life with attention-grabbing trompe l’oeil murals. Its most recent work, in Cannes, has transformed a foot tunnel leading to the beach at La Bocca into an epic aquarium inspired by Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, complete with giant sea monsters and Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.
03. Luz Nas Vielas
The Brazilian art collective Boa Mistura started its trompe l’oeil project, Luz Nas Vielas, in north São Paulo back in 2012. It consisted of five words – amor, beleza, orgulho, doçura and firmeza (love, pride, sweetness, beauty and strength) – painted in alleys throughout the favela. Five years later Boa Mistura has returned with two news words: Poesía and Magica (poetry and magic).
04. Des Anamorphoses
French street art duo Ella & Pitr created this series of picture frame installations for an ad campaign for the National Dramatic Center of St. Etienne in France, featuring impossibly warped picture frames and other anamorphic treats.
05. Copenhagen Zoo
Bus wraps are a new – and mobile – way of sending trompe l’oeil artwork out into the world. This one, featuring a giant snake crushing a bus, will either put you off or encourage you to visit Copenhagen Zoo. Either way, it’s a memorable design certain to stick in your head and generate word-of mouth enthusiasm.
Italian street artist Peeta makes clever use of colour gradients and shadows to make his graffiti pop out of its surroundings. It’s designed to look like sculpture rather than 2D art, and it’s very convincing. Just to add to the confusion, he also creates actual graffiti-inspired sculptures.
07. Indoor wilderness
Italian artist Daniela Benedini founded her own company in 1994, after graduating as Mastro Pittore at the Painting Academy of Brera in Milan. Specialising in interior decoration, she creates beautiful trompe l’oeil paintings, collaborating with some of the most prestigious interior designers in the world.
Situated over Carroll Creek in Frederick, Maryland, this award-winning trompe l’oeil mural depicts the spirit of community. The large-scale mural project transformed a plain concrete bridge into the permanent illusion of an old, ivy-covered stone bridge.
Artist William Cochran and his assistants used permanent silicate paints to create the highly detailed illusionist painting, complete with fake niches, fountains and statues, and 3,000 unique painted stones.
09. Portland’s peeling blueprint
Originally painted in 1986 by Chris Denison, C. Michael Lewis, Toni Wolf, Josephine Mussomeli, Steven Priestly and Bertelle Brookings, the peeling blueprint is perhaps one of the cleverer takes on trompe l’oeil, and has become a local landmark. The mural creates the illusion that there is a giant blueprint of the building peeling off of one side of it, revealing the actual building underneath.
10. Floating shapes
Felice Varini is a Switzerland-born artist based in Paris. For over 30 years now, he’s been creating remarkable geometric trompe l’oeil installations around the world. Painting primarily on architectural spaces such as buildings and walls, each of his works has a single vantage point from which a precise geometric shape appears. Genius.
11. The Crevasse
German street painter Edgar Mueller is a master of fun trompe l’oeil work – this crevasse piece being a perfect example. Mueller’s website is filled with awe-inspiring images of incredibly detailed and realistic street paintings, which include waterfalls, trees and caves. We know this trompe l’oeil artwork isn’t real but that wouldn’t stop us thinking twice before standing on it.
12. House party
Artist Ciaran Brennan (aka. Yohan) went all-out for his house party by painting this trompe l’oeil illusion of balloons spilling out on the walls outside. He comments on his piece, “I didn’t get to finish it completely, I wanted to paint the inside of the house through the hole in the wall but I ended up just making it dark.”
13. Roundstone St
Located in Roundstone St in Trowbridge, UK, this trompe l’oeil is thought to be the biggest in the country. The realistic house design, created by artist Roger Smith and Wiltshire Steeplejacks, was installed on the blank wall in October 2003 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Trowbridge Civic Society.
14. Dining table
This dining table looks like it needs a good tidy. However, attempting that wouldn’t get you very far, as the objects are in fact oil paintings. This brilliant piece was created by fine artist and interior decorator Ian Carnie, who specialises in decorative and landscape trompe l’oeil murals.
15. Great American Crossroad
Eric Grohe began his creative career as an illustrator and graphic designer back in 1961. Since then, his work has grown in scope and size, leading to the large-scale trompe l’oeil murals he creates today. He uses specialist German paint, which crystallises into mineral substrates and will not fade, peel or blister. Grohe has painted artwork all over the US, including this brilliant piece, titled Great American Crossroad, located in Ohio.
Next page: 15 more amazing examples of trompe l’oeil
16. The Canebière
A specialist in urban illusion, visual artist, painter, videographer and musician Pierre Delavie is the man behind this giant trompe l’oeil located on the facade of the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille, France. The brilliant scene shows the Canebière – the historic high street in the old quarter of Marseille – passing right through the building.
17. Trompe l’oeil bench
Taiwanese company Rüskasa‘s hand-built RU-ST007 bench features a trompe l’oeil effect on the seat. It appears to have been upholstered, when it’s actually carved to just look like that. Clever, eh?
18. Fresque du Petit-Champlain
Quebec is home to some amazing trompe l’oeil artwork. One such example is the Fresque du Petit-Champlain, which can be found in Old Quebec, at the foot of Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Steps) and along one of the oldest streets in North America. The mindblowing piece depicts depicts milestones in the city’s history, from the beginnings of New France until the present day.
19. Honda commercial
Packed full of optical illusions and illustrations, this brilliant commercial for Honda was created by UK ad agency mcgarrybowen. By blending practical elements with cleverly painted imagery, this clip stays as fresh as it is mind-boggling.
Hard to believe, we know. But there’s no way you’d be able to read this set of books for they are, in fact, a brilliant example of trompe l’oeil art. This is just one of many amazing pieces by professional trompe l’oeil painter, muralist and illustrator Paul Czainski.
21. René Magritte Museum
Back in 2009, a new museum dedicated to the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte opened in Brussels. The building that housed this famous painter’s work had its facade updated in trompe l’oeil, featuring two side of theatre curtains pleated open to reveal a giant reproduction of iconic work of Magritte: The Empire of Light (1954).
22. 39 George V
In 2007, the people of Paris were able to take in this view of the 39 George V building. While the structure was being renovated, artwork made entirely of photographs of the original building was manipulated, printed and hung on scaffolding to shelter the rehabilitation. Very cool.
23. Cafe Trompe L’oeil
This detailed piece, another by prolific artist John Pugh, is entitled Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life. It can be found at the Cafe Trompe L’oeil, in San Jose, California.
24. Pepsi truck
Trompe l’oeil art doesn’t just work buildings. This Pepsi design, featuring several gravity-defying crates of cola, was one of seven semi-trailer trucks that were painted in the brain-scrambling trompe l’oeil style (others included a fish tank and mobile library design).
This mind-blowing trompe l’oeil image was created by photographer Helen G. We have to admit, it took us a few seconds to notice the pencil drawing at the top of the building and realise some of the balconies were not real.
26. LaSalle Towers
This facade is part of the LaSalle Towers Apartments high-rise building on North LaSalle Street in Chicago, Illinois. This wall has no real door, steps or detailed engravings: everything you see here is a painting. This trompe l’oeil mural is based on Louis H Sullivan’s Golden Door from the Transportation Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892.
27. Derelict building
This impressive mural, painted by artist Nina Camplin, transformed an old, derelict building in Swanage into an eye-catching piece of art. Specialising in trompe l’oeil, Camplin’s website states she is “interested in challenging perceptions of space and creating illusions of faked realities.”
28. Garage door library
It’s not every day you come across an interesting garage door, so we had to include this one in our list. This particular library design graces the door of Lee Dembart, former writer and book reviewer for the LA Times, for whom books are a passion. Dembart had this trompe l’oeil mural painted in 2005 by artist Don Gray.
The career of mural artist Janet Shearer began back in 1983 when she was commissioned to decorate the walls of a swimming pool in Hyde Park. Since then she has created hundreds of paintings, ranging from portraits to landscapes. But Shearer has a particular passion for trompe l’oeil and constantly creates brilliant pieces, including this including this ultra-realistic ‘Arches’ mural.
30. Siete Punto Uno
Another piece by artist John Pugh, this Egyptian style mural adorns a wall in Los Gatos, California. His incredibly realistic 3D illustrations trick the viewer’s eye into believing the scene is real. Even the woman peering into the ruin is a painting.
Contributions: Jim McCauley
This is an updated and extended version of an article that previously appeared on Creative Bloq. Let us know what we should add to future updates in the comments box below!