Sex and the Chester: Trompe l ’heart

By Alyssa Velazquez

Elm Staff Writer

The term “trompe l’oeil,” in the context of its native French language, means to “fool the eye.” Trompe l’oeil, despite its verb quality, is in fact a genre of painting popular in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, working its magic by using different paint mediums to lend a sense of three-dimensionality to its depictions.

When executed correctly, a representation of an apple no longer appears to be a representation, rather, the apple you saw in the super market yesterday. This apple bears such a striking resemblance to reality that you begin to believe it is, in fact, real. You then come to the conclusion that fruit is being physically attached to canvases, duct tape is being utilized as a form of art, and suddenly you have a craving for Granny Smith apples. It’s only after coming nose to nose with the work of art itself that you realize the apple, living up to its genre title, is not real.

I wish I could claim these tidbits of art history as having been merely transcribed material from my intellect. However, along with adding an obscure French phrase to my vocabulary, my awareness of the “trompe l’oeil” art movement was only a recent development.

In fact, it was my current engagement in the realm of illusionism this past weekend that introduced me to a balloon animal, duct tape, and the notion of “pop” love.

It all happened at Brandywine.

The Brandywine Art Museum in Delaware had been advertising along with their permanent collections a temporary showcase in modern American tromp l’oeil artwork until Nov. 18. Fascinated with the movement and the exhibit being short-term, I made the resolution to go to Brandywine.

So, this past Sunday I planned my outfit accordingly and set out to spend my day in a hideaway of culture. As I passed dollar bills, number two pencils, gears, grapes, and fowl all reaching out of their frames to surround me in a forest of acrylic and watercolor wonder that even Lewis Carroll couldn’t have imagined, I came upon “Target the Artist” by Richard C. Jackson.

As I pushed past the outreaching bubble-wrap and Post-It notes I began to read the marker set beside my discovered “target.” The background was made of wooden pop culture boxes advertising soda–a tower of pop, literally. Against said soda pop wall was pinned a target and adhered to its circular center was a red balloon animal taped down, holding a paintbrush in its inflated front paws.

The remark left by the artist next to his creation begged the question: Does art need to adhere to the trends and pop sensibility to be valid?

As I looked back and forth from the remark to the final product, I noticed that one of the grates in the painting had the word love printed on it. What was love doing hanging around with pop culture?

Just as my brow began to furrow from the discovery, I heard the artist’s remark replayed in my ears: Does art need to adhere to the trends in order for it to valid? Does love need to remain within the notions of current culture in order for it to be viable? Is love only love when Scotch-taped to the wall of current romantic fads, products, and culture?  Is our notion of love today centered in the cross hairs of unrealistic targets? If so, how would we know?

It was then that I realized I had a line forming up behind me and as much as I wanted to stay glued in front of my newfound red-ballooned idea, I moved on.

As I traveled around the gallery, my mind began to inflate an idea of its own. We unknowingly have come to represent and associate love and relationships with commercialism.

Movies, TV shows, commercials, pop culture, ads, even aired YouTube proposals have us all associating one with the other. Rather than be vulnerable to love, we have made love vulnerable to us, a subject of public opinion that changes with each public.  Relationships that deviate from the norm are deflated, while relationships in conjunction with current culture are inflated.

After my first circuit around the room, I decided to go back through my previously traveled path and see “Target the Artist” one last time before I left.

There it was, just as I left it, a red balloon and soda crates. As I assumed my previous position, the helium limbs seemed to simply lift it off the surface of the linen. When I caught my hand levitating, I knew I had let my eyes get away from me. It was all a trick; the surface and the material of it all had fooled my eyes. I had been fooled by a cultural image of love.

Exiting the gallery, I took note of the exhibit’s name–Reality Check–which to me fit perfectly because that was exactly what I had been given.

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