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Architectural illusion.

Looking carefully

Richard Haas is recognized as the major architectural muralist in America. He transforms bare, ordinary walls of buildings into extravagant and inventive architectural fantasies. His gigantic wall paintings are found in many cities throughout the United States, and abroad in such cities as Munich, West Germany and Melbourne, Australia. While he has achieved fame for his trompe l'oeil (literally, "fool the eye") technique, he has said, "I do not intend to deceive people--I want them to react to each piece as a good work of art which has created an illusion."

Painting on surfaces and walls has been a significant art form since the days of the cave painters. Primitive societies followed the urge to make marks of spiritual and cultural importance on cave walls and on landmarks in their immediate world. The fresco painters of the Renaissance adorned the architectural interiors of great cathedrals and churches with large paintings. These artists depicted scenes from the Bible--literally creating visual stories fulfilling a need to inform a largely illiterate society.

Richard Haas has responded to a different kind of need, a need for a kind of ornamental richness which is absent from many of our modern buildings. While his huge murals are illusionistic by nature, Haas says that his purpose is "to embellish and enrich through the re-introduction of decorative elements to architectural surfaces." He looks upon large, blank walls found in our cities as huge canvasses upon which to work his magic.

The centerspread in this issue shows his mural on the wall of the Fontainebleau Hilton Hotel in Miami Beach. The inset photo shows what the wall looked like before Haas applied his masterful touch to completely change the nature of the wall with paint--color and shadow and texture. He has effectively seduced the onlooker into believing that the wall has depth and dimension. He has used his skill to imply sculpted figures, a recessed arch and carved ornamental forms. He takes the viewer's eye on a delightful, fanciful journey into a make-believe landscape.

"Architecture, like many of nature's animals, changes its skin to satisfy the needs of a shifting environment. Architectural illusion, which I began using in the mid-70s, is mostly a painted architecture that allows an artist to alter the skin more radically and rapidly than actual constructed surfaces do. With the use of mosaic, gold leaf finishes, and sculptural friezes, I have recently extended the range of decor beyond paint alone and made the perception of the work richer."

Note the effective integration of the real plant forms in the front of the wall with the painted forms through the arch. Notice the artist's use of blue taken front the brilliant Florida sky to modify the shape of the building and suggest the top of the arch. See how the real shadows cast by the building are reinforced by the painted shadows. Are you able to distinguish the real from the painted? Would this facade appear different when the sun is in a different position? In his combining an Art Deco Triumphal Arch with the Egyptian images of bas-relief, ibis and elongated caryatid figures, Haas has used ambiguity to delight and engage the viewer. Under what conditions would this mural lose its ability to fool the eye? What would be the ideal conditions for viewing the mural?

Key concepts

* The artist's conception of the environment provides information to other people and to other times.

* The mural is an art form which can simultaneously inform, educate, decorate, celebrate, provoke and mystify.

* Interior and exterior surfaces and spaces are enhanced through the use of murals.

* skillful use of color, light and shadow can make two dimensional surfaces appear to have depth and substance.


Haas was influenced by artists of the past whose prints and paintings of buildings and citrus are famous. Studying the work of Piranesi, Meryon, John Taylor Arms and Canaletto taught him about architecture and art. A trip to Italy brought him the revelation of Renaissance buildings and post-Renaissance

architecture with exterior and interior wall paintings and frescoes. Haas was exposed to the phenomenal fresco work of the great masters including Michelangelo and Raphael. The influence of these masters is evident in his subsequent work.

Compare Haas' wall on the Fontainebleau with the detail of Raphael's School of Athens. Notice how Raphael also attempted to "fool the eye" of the viewer with painted architectural detail and dramatic one-point perspective. The Italian master used color and form to create an illusion of depth and architectural richness on a blank wall just as Haas used images, details and the large arch to frame the scene in the background of his Fontainebleau mural.

Examine both artists' use of historical imagery and architectural detail. How have they established a frame of reference for the viewer? While Raphael used classical themes and the human figure to tell a visual story, Haas surprises the viewer with Egyptian historical references which appear quite out of context.

Compare both compositions' use of architectural images and details. Are they consistent with the time and place depicted? Discuss the possible reaction of people viewing Raphael's fresco. How did they justify the depiction of an event which might have occurred about 350 B.C. taking place in a sixteenth century architectural setting? In what ways would their reaction be similar to someone viewing Haas' mural today? How might they be different? Is the primary purpose of the works to decorate, inform, provoke, celebrate or mystify?
Richard Haas

1936 Born in Spring Green,
1959 Received BA from University of
1964 Received MFA from University
 of Minnesota.
1968 Moved to New York; began
 working on drawings and prints
 of cast iron facades in SoHo;
 extended subject matter to late
 nineteenth and early twentieth
 century eclectic buildings.
Mid-70s Expanded viewpoint of drawings
 and prints to broader cityscapes.
1977 First major Architectural
 Mural - Boston Architectural
1978 Completed the Arcade, Peck Slip,
 South Street Seaport, New York;
 completed the Munich Facade
 Near Isar Tor.
1979 Completed the Lincoln Tunnel
 Exit in New York; continued
 work on panoramic city views;
 completed the Times Tower on
1980 Completed Homage to the
 Chicago School, an 80,000square
 foot apartment house
 painting on LaSalle Street in
1981 Completed the Massachusetts
 Institute of Technology interior
 project, an illusion of a full
 classical room, with Ionic
 columns and pilasters and a
 shallow dome; completed the
 Centre Theatre Facade in
 Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
1982- Completed exteriors and
 interiors in many cities
 throughout the U.S.

Suggested activities Elementary

* Construct a "cave" out of cardboard or brown paper over a table. Have children examine cave paintings (pictographs) and carvings (petroglyphs). Have them decorate the interior of the cave with personal symbols Use chalk or charcoal.

* Demonstrate the projection of an image through the use of a slide projector or an opaque projector. Select student work or combine student works for enlargement. Have students work m teams to enlarge works for murals.

* After examining the Haas mural, have the children discuss possibilities for changing the appearance of a wall in their bedroom or home. Have them create a cartoon for a fanciful wall treatment with images of interest to them.

* Create a group mural of the neighborhood. Have each child draw the facade of a house or building in the neighborhood. Have the children arrange the drawings to create an informative mural.

* Discuss the challenges of large scale painting and ceiling painting as practiced by three fresco painters. Have the children tape a piece of paper to the underside of their desks or tables. Have them lie on the floor and draw on the paper.


* Have students prepare a one-point perspective sketch of a blank wall in your building Develop the sketch for an imaginary architectural mural which continues the one point perspective. Have them research a historical architectural style which might be used in the sketch. Discuss and practice "faux" painting (see article in this issue by James Hopton).

* Examine the work of contemporary muralists such as Diego Rivera. Discuss the social messages implicit in these images. Develop a cartoon for a mural which addresses a current social issue in the lives of the students.

* Find a blank wall in the school building. Have students measure the wall and prepare a scale layout. Discuss the possibilities for appropriate images on the wall. Do you want to educate, inform, mystify, decorate, provoke, celebrate? Have students create cartoons of their ideas for a wall mural. Involve the whole class in a critique of the finished products. Involve students in persuading the principal or school committee to fund the application of the best design to the wall.

* Examine the work of other trompe l'oeil painters. Have students set up a still life and draw it as realistically as possible. Use light and shadow to dramatize forms. Discuss the challenges of re-creating the images on a large scale.

* Determine a book or play which students might be studying in a literature class. Have them research an appropriate interior or exterior architectural style for a set design. Have them solve three dimensional problems on a two-dimensional backdrop. Have them create models for their scene.


Richard Haas, Architectural Projects 1974-1988. New York: Brook Alexander, New York and Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, 1988. A well-illustrated catalog presenting a retrospective view of Haas' work from 1968 to 1988. Many color Illustrations and examples of working drawings.

Richard Haas, Richard Haas, An Architecture of Illusion. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1981. A richly illustrated volume which includes an autobiographical sketch, an introduction and commentary by the architecture critic of The New York Times, Paul Goldberger, and an extensive overview of Haas' work.

Judith Neisser, "Masterpieces of Illusion." Mainliner Magazine. October, 1989, p. 79.

Pat Ven Gelder, "Richard Haas, Illusions from the Past." American Artist Magazine. March, 1989 p. 28.

Keith Roberts, Italian Renaissance Painting. New York: Phaidon, Oxford and E.P. Dutton, 1976.

Dr. Richard Doornek is Curriculum Specialist for art education in the Milwaukee. Wisconsin Public Schools.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Looking/Learning
Author:Doornek, Richard R.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Previous Article:Collaborative arts.
Next Article:An integrated learning experience.

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