In today's hyper-connected age, it's hard to be surprised by anything for very long. The mystery seems to have been snatched out of our collective culture, particularly with smartphones in every hand to solve any problem and a general lack of things that are still able to create astonishment and awe. It often seems like much of the magic has gone out of the world, but there are those who still believe, and remain dedicated to inspiring others to suspend their disbelief and embrace those old sensations of childhood wonder.
Arizona-based artist Tom Eckert has found a way to inject a unique style of magic in the ancient and traditionally straightforward medium of woodcarving. His photorealistic sculptures of intricate and delicate scenes are deceptively shaped, colored, and balanced to create an illusion of reality, so that his paradoxical art tricks the mind and captures the imagination.
When most people think of woodcarving, they picture someone building a chair, whittling som small tool,or decorating a piece of furniture with ornate accoutrements. No matter how impressive those creations may be, they serve a clear purpose and contain very little mystery in terms of form, technique, or function. Eckert chose to employ his mastery of the craft in disguising his works as something else, camouflaging his wooden sculptures in the form of decidedly un-wooden objects.
Even knowing that these pieces are composed entirely of meticulously carved wood, the eye still disbelieves, because the mind creates an idea of weight, texture, and gravitational relationships between certain objects over the course of your life. When a master illusionist somehow deceives us, we're hooked, just like a child at a backyard magic show, or in Eckert's case, slack-jawed viewers in art galleries across the world.
Rising of the Sphere
As a master woodworker, Eckert shows a true mastery of his craft, using large blocks of linden, limewood, and basswood, because they are malleable, easy to carve, and receptive to detailed painting. It is difficult for anyone outside of the woodworking arts to even fathom making a chair, or a desk, but Eckert goes one step further and creates pieces of reality which have never been made of wood, and convinces us of their form through subtlety and skill.
Below are the progression images of one of his most impressive sculptures, a teetering stack of bowls, with a cloth thrown carelessly atop it. Eckert captures the instability of the scene as though he has taken a photograph of an imminent catastrophe, yet that dynamism remains frozen in time in three dimensions, rather than two. As an added challenge, he carves a casually draped cloth, occluding our view of the entire stack, adding even more mystery ontop of the visual enigma.
Aberrant Ascension (In Progress, with model)
Aberrant Ascension (Unpainted)
The truth is almost unbelievable, even as you see the sculpture as it develops. As a comprehensive artist, Eckert has mastered a handful of disciplines that other artists spend a lifetime getting right. He must not only understand the complex nature of woodcarving, but also the physical art of sculpture, and the aesthetic talents of painting, not to mention the creativity and innovation of a sincerely gifted artist. Mainstream designations of woodworking often describe it as a trade or a craft, but Eckert has shown the true potential of the medium as a magnificent art form.
Eckert's frequent inclusion of cloth, or at least wood that looks like cloth, seems like a flagellatingly difficult addition to his works, but it is actually deeply rooted in his original interest in art. As a child, he was fascinated by statues veiled with cloth in church or simply the act of hiding something with a piece of fabric. In our society, the act of hiding or obfuscating something from view is not uncommon, whether it is in marketing, the "big reveal" of a game show, or the revelation of a work of art.
Eckert has turned that oft-overlooked aspect of our culture and integrated it into the mystery of his own work. Why are we fascinated by things we are not allowed to see? And more importantly, why do we secretly revel in the power that keeping things hidden from others gives us? When things are fully revealed, the mystery or chance for that spark of shock is gone. Reality regains control, and the unknown becomes nothing more than an abstract concept once again. In Eckert's work, many of his pieces are never fully revealed, allowing the mystery to remain forever, a sensation which we so rarely get to enjoy.
No matter how old we are, there is something invigorating about being fooled, and regardless of how jaded and cynical we may become, we'll always want to know whether there is a man behind the curtain pulling the strings. Age and wisdom have no power over that small voice in our minds that makes us believe in magic, and art that can transcend reality and remind us of the endless possibilities in life is something truly special.
If you think your physics-law-following brain can take any more illusions, then visit Tom Eckert's website to see all of his projects and mind-blowing sculptures.
Have A Taste For Magic? Eckert isn't the only artist who creates spectacular and inexplicably beautiful works of art. Check out all of my favorite Art Outside the Lines, and follow me on Google+ or Twitter for all the updates about the wilder side of art.
All images are subject to the copyright of the artist.