Perspective Is Everything: the art of Julian Beever

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Is perspective what you see?

Perspective is everything. Just ask Julian Beever. Beever is a British artist who specializes in chalk drawings on sidewalks, which utilize specific perspectives to create the illusion of a three dimensional image; a practice called anamorphosis. At first glance it’s hard to believe that there isn’t any computer touch-ups done to the photographs, but Beever is not only a great artist, he’s also a master of perspective. It is this ability to manipulate perspective that sets Beever apart. “What is on the pavement is a distortion, but when [people] look through the camera they see it in three dimensions.”

Below are a number of photographs of Beever’s work, including one of a drawing of a globe. This is the one drawing on Beever’s website that is accompanied by a shot of the drawing that isn’t from the “correct” perspective. From the “wrong” perspective the drawing is still impressive, but what becomes obvious is that while Beever is quite talented with chalk, his true medium is perspective. The emphasis Beever places on perspective can be seen clearly in the video (below) as Beever returns over and over to the camera to “regain” his perspective. “What is on the pavement is a distortion, but when [people] look through the camera they see it in three dimensions,” says Beever.

Beever’s work not only draws attention to visual perspective but also to ideological perspective. It makes one wonder about what perspective we, as a society and as individuals, are viewing the world from today. A while back some friends and I mused on what our generation would be criticized for not being able to “see” in a few hundred years. For example, 300 years ago most people in America viewed the world from such a perspective that slavery was not seen as the egregious injustice. It is hard for us to fathom that today, and it is tempting to view ourselves as morally superior to Americans 300 years ago, but I would caution against this, as this view of slavery seems to be more a result of perspective than morality. After all, it was some of those people, who had such a distinct and grand vision of justice, that penned the Constitution that still governs our country today.

So what perspectives of ours will Americans in 2307 question? Maybe they will question our perspectives on the environment or abortion or capital punishment or homosexuality or consumerism or violence or [insert your own issue]. This is a question I have continued to ponder, and the more I think about it the more frightened I am by this question. As I view Beever’s work from the intended perspective it is almost impossible for me to picture the drawing from any other perspective… and when seeing the globe from the “wrong” perspective I am unable to picture what the globe looks like from the intended perspective. I seem to be at the mercy of perspective. I wonder how deep this rabbit hole of perspective goes and if I will ever be able to escape it…and if I am not able to escape it, if I will be able to understand it, and its effect on my ideologies, well enough to better recognize why I see things like I do.