Thus far my experience as an artist has taught me that it can be a pretty enduring process trying to create a successful portrait which is designed purely in black and white. If you've taken a look at my own work, you'll notice that my use of high contrast often features a nice splash of colour to create some compositional balance - whatever that means. So I'm pretty green with envy when I double take at fine artist Tom French whose illusory work seems to be created exclusively from a monochromatic palette:
How do you stave off boredom when working with just two colours? I don't suppose John Virtue ever asked himself that question, but...French is interesting because he's almost like an updated and modernised version of old traditional methods with his contemporary urban realism. If you've read my previous posts, you'll already be sick of hearing that I like art that plays with opposites, contrasts, juxtapositions, contradictions, paradoxes, oxymorons...Well, here's a new one: French handles a duality between the beautiful and the sinister which is in perfect equilibrium:
French studies exuberant relationships which by their very intimate gestures momentarily conjure the ultimate symbol of mortality: a human skull. But what do you see first? French's work is reminiscent of those online optical illusion games you played as a kid. But since his images are not a series of fleeting brain-bashers but permanent works of art, his illusions don't dispel. They stick, creating this eerie fixation between the living dead and the dead living: the embraced figures at once seem alive and amorous, yet the surrealist effect of the skeleton creeping through renders them ghostly and ethereal, causing the skull itself to become humanised.
It's an odd transformative effect for the viewer. For me, French isn't necessarily taking us on a painfully predictable "Oh look - it's a pretty picture but on closer inspection it's so much darker than that" journey. The 'pretty to dark' element is interchangeable: death can become life as much as life can become death. So I suppose the question it asks of you is quite simply, 'Life or Death?' In any case, French's art naturally revives ideas that life and death are closer than we think, that death is inevitable. But since the two are so well 'balanced', there's also always a sense of rejoice in that these pieces can celebrate the value of life and togetherness in the morbid face of loss.
French's reality-bending aesthetic was recently picked up for the new custom artwork on the Donnie Darko soundtrack release. The result is wicked - it's seriously encouraging to see great young talent being recognised for large scale projects like this.
We don't need to rely on Photoshop for everything.