Modern Era: Illusory Art

Prepare to see the world in a new way. The images I am about to present will play with your mind! The work I would like to focus your attention on today comes from two artists: Rob Gonsalves and Erik Johansson. Although their styles are different, both of these men seem to have the common goal of pulling your mind out of the rut of boring perspectives.

Rob Gonsalves

Born in Canada in 1959, Rob Gonsalves did not take long to show his artistic skill (“Incredible Optical Illusion”). As a child, his artwork reflected his imagination. Unlike many children, his fascination with art turned into a full-time career. He has illustrated several books, and he currently lives in Ontario, Canada (“Rob Gonsalves”).

Although I could not find information about where he produced each painting, I think it is safe to assume based on his biographical information that it was Canada. In each of Gonsalves’ paintings that I selected, I see evidence of a child-like imagination. His paintings are reminiscent of the ways we all probably thought when we were younger. Thanks to our imaginations, ordinary events turned into exciting adventures. As we age and experience the realities of life every day, our imaginations tend to spend more time dormant. However, Gonsalves’ artwork calls our imaginations back into action.

Woodland Area, (c) Rob Gonsalves
Woodland Arena by Rob Gonsalves (2008)

As a viewer, I understand what would be going on inside the subject’s head. The child is out skating alone, but in her mind, the spotlight is on and the crowds are cheering. Many kids love to imagine that they are the star of the show. Because it is so well executed, this painting helps me identify with what the subject would be thinking.

Aspiring Acrobats, (c) Rob Gonsalves
Aspiring Acrobats by Rob Gonsalves (2009)

I like how reality is shown in the distance: the kids are just tightrope walking inches above a path. But as your eyes drift to the front of the scene, a new picture appears. It is vivid. It is not child’s play anymore. As you look at the main subject, you can understand that in her mind, she is a hero. She holds her balance in the wind (note her hair). Her very life is at stake. Yet in her mind, she is such an incredible acrobat that she is moving forward with a confident smile on her face.

This painting is beautiful. The composition is aesthetically pleasing. And the colors and proportions both work very well to support the artist’s goal.

Bedtime Aviation, (c) Rob Gonsalves
Bedtime Aviation by Rob Gonsalves (2001)

As in the former two paintings, we see reality (jumping on the beds) merge seamlessly into imagination (flying). I like how the terrain in the background resembles beds covered with patchwork quilts. At the same time, however, they are strong resemblances of a landscape. I like how the plane below makes it clearer what the girl above it is imitating.

All three of these paintings refreshed my mind. I think that is what these optical illusions were meant to do. Specifically, these remind me of how happy we were able to be as children just with simple things. Perhaps Gonsalves was aiming to encourage us to rediscover happiness in the simple things of life.

More of Gonsalves’ work is posted here.

Erik Johansson

According to the information Erik posted on his own website, he is a young guy–about 31. He grew up in Sweden, well-acquainted with the outdoors. When he first entered photography, he was dissatisfied with the ease of it. His journey into illusory art began as he considered how to do more with photography. He developed his own style, and now he is well-known for it. As Erik has shown, there are some exciting new artistic possibilities today with Photoshop and other technologies at our disposal.

Iron Man by Erik Johansson
Iron Man by Erik Johansson (2008)

Based on biographical information, I believe this piece was made in Sweden. As with the other pieces presented in this blog, the optical illusion encourages us to have a new perspective. In this case, the visual pun makes you rethink what the “Iron Man” is. For this image, I think the main goal the artist had was to make you smile. I believe he effectively did that. Whenever “Iron Man” comes up in the future, I probably will think of this.

Don't Look Back by Erik Johansson
Don’t Look Back by Erik Johansson (2014)

This piece was probably made in Berlin, Johansson’s home around this time. The vivid sense of action in this image makes it powerful. The last image seemed to be primarily for humor’s sake, but this image seems to carry a profound message. There are things in life that we need to leave behind us. If we pause and look back, it will probably be to our detriment. It’s important that be move forward with urgency, leaving old things behind. A bright future is ahead if we leave our old lives behind us.


Landfall by Erik Johansson
Landfall by Erik Johansson (2014)

This image was likely created in Berlin also. It is impressive how realistic the details are. Johansson masterfully portrays his ideas through his images. Landfall is an interesting illusion because it portrays something we see as solid–the ground–as very unstable. I am not aware of his purpose for this image (or if he had any deep message he was trying to convey), but it does something all of images in this collection have done. It encourages us to rethink how we see the world.


Just as an aside, you might enjoy browsing Johansson’s gallery. He is very talented! For the curious, here is video showing how he created Landfall. It is very fascinating.


Works Cited

“Incredible Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves.” Learning Mind. Learning Mind, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 Apr. 2016. <>.

Johansson, Erik. “FAQ.” Erik Johansson Photography. Erik Johansson Photography, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Rob Gonsalves.” Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2016. <>.


One thought on “Modern Era: Illusory Art

  1. Great post! This is some of the most interesting and imaginative work that I have seen all semester. I particularly like the Aspiring Acrobats and Bedtime Aviation. They convey strong messages of creativity and imagination. Do you know who Gonsalves drew inspiration from? I am trying to draw connections to earlier periods but cant think of much! It would be interesting to find out what gave him his stylistic ideas. Thanks for the awesome post!


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