Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: creative vision

Impossible Images

Impossible images are Erik Johansson’s specialty – he’s a magician according to some of his admirers. To the delight of many, he likes to fabricate photographs that could only be captured by his imagination. While Johansson calls himself a photographer and retouch artist, on his website you can find fascinating examples of why he’s also a wizard of whimsy. Here’s one of my favorites:


Erik Johansson “Go Your Own Road”

Here’s another:


Erik Johansson “Fishy Island”

These are photomontages, or a pasting together of many different photographs to create one realistic but impossible image. Consider the next one – I think Surrealist painter Rene Magritte would have found it to his liking. But first, check out Magritte’s painting entitled “The Human Condition:”


Rene Magritte “The Human Condition”

And here’s Erik Johnsson’s photomontage “Self-actualization:”


Erik Johansson “Self-actualization”

For me, what makes these pieces work is Johansson’s sense of humor. Yes, they’re great eye teasers and extremely well-crafted. But they also have a sense of the absurd that makes you smile. I feel these images are like an open door, inviting you into a quirky but fascinating world where anything could be possible.


Erik Johansson “Kaffeslump”

What these pieces have in common is that they all seem plausible – there are no detectible signs of manipulation, although our brain understands that what we’re seeing is a carefully crafted illusion. In fact, all of these impossible images have been created using Photoshop (a software program that allows you to re-imagine photographs).


Erik Johansson “Arms break, vases don’t”

Erik spends hours conceiving each image, making sketches and taking photographs. As he works, he must ensure that the angle, lighting and point of view of his photographs are consistent – so all the pieces will work together seamlessly. Then he spends many hours in a Photoshop mashup, shaping all the little details to realize his creative vision.


Erik Johansson “Vertical turn”

All of his painstaking work gives these impossible images that “huh?” factor –  his best ones make you smile.


Erik Johansson “Stryktalig”

Still, for some they raise the question of style v. substance. Obviously Erik is a highly skilled craftsman/technician who delights in how he can bend reality. You can see that in his work and in this short video of a recent street prank he ran on some people waiting for a bus.

He’s been celebrated for his technical ability. But beyond the smile-inducing first glance, to quote Gertrude Stein, is there any there there? Here’s what I mean: on the one hand, you need technique and skill to accomplish anything of value – I don’t want to minimize the effort it takes become accomplished at something. Still, technique without compelling content doesn’t take you very far.

You can admire, applaud and be mesmerized by outstanding technical ability. But at the end of the day, what gives a piece power requires something more than just having the skill to create it – call it content, meaning, depth, whatever. Without that, you loose the ability to surprise and delight, to engage the intellect and touch the emotions.


Erik Johansson “Cut and fold”

Erik spoke about how he approaches his work at an Adobe Max presentation (Adobe makes the Photoshop software). In the 16 minute video below he gives you a little insight into his creative vision and shows how he constructs his impossible images.

So what do you think? Is there enough there to give Erik’s work some heft – make it more than just an “oh-wow” experience? Is it eye candy or something else? How do you see it? Leave a comment and let me know.




The Lang’s Creative Vision

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“Pickup Sticks” by Judith and Richard Lang

Whatever an artist’s creative vision – they see the world through a different lens. Yes, some want to create an aesthetic experience and some want to make us think… or do both. I’ve always been curious about found art, those random bits and pieces of our lives tossed aside, left by the road or lying on the beach – only to be resurrected as art by a curious eye and inventive hand.

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“Bosky Dell” by Judith and Richard Lang

But plastic? It’s so commonplace we don’t even think about it – although we probably couldn’t survive without it. Still, it seems to be a strange medium for an artist to work with.


“Bottles” by Judith and Richard Lang

Plastic is so trivial it’s just part of our disposable lifestyle. That’s what we do, we cast it away without a moment’s thought. Or maybe recycle it. Either way, an amazing amount of the stuff winds up in our oceans.


Point Reyes National Seashore from the National Park Service site

By a fluke of the ocean currents there’s a constant stream of plastic bits washing ashore at Kehoe Beach, part of Point Reyes National Seashore. That’s where our story begins.


“Wreath Hairclips” by Judith and Richard Lang

This is a tale of two California artists, Judith and Richard Lang, who make art from the plastic debris they find as they wander the seashore at Kehoe Beach. Smithsonian Magazine describes how they got started:

In 1999, Richard and Judith had their first date on this Northern California beach. Both were already accomplished artists who had taught watercolor classes at the University of California and shown their work in San Francisco galleries. And both (unbeknown to each other) had been collecting beach plastic for years.


Richard and Judith Lang’s first creative vision – photo from the Mountain Film site

Richard: “This is a love story. Our passion is not only plastic but each other. We could never have imagined, on that day, what an incredible life would unfold—picking up other people’s garbage.”

Judith: “But it’s pretty sad to see this plastic strewn all over the beach. And it’s so recent. I remember going to the beach as a child; I never saw plastic. This problem has washed into our lives—and it’s not going to wash out any time soon.”

There are several videos about the Langs and their work. I like the one below the best, it’s well shot, nicely edited and they talk about their artistic journey, their found medium and why they try to make beautiful work from all that plastic junk.

I like what Judith says in the video about thinking of each plastic shard as a brush stroke. It gets to the artist’s creative vision to see several things as true at once – which gives their work depth and punch – drawing us in and making us think. We’re struck by the beauty of the images and, as we muse about what they represent, are fascinated and repelled at the same time. I especially like their chroma series because the color palette takes the abstraction to a deeper level. The chroma series also recalls Louise Nevelson’s sculpted wood assemblages.


“Chroma Blue” by Judith and Richard Lang


“Chroma Red” by Judith and Richard Lang


“Chroma Purple” by Judith and Richard Lang

For me, what’s powerful about their creative effort is seeing them think outside the box. And, as artists, discovering a way to fashion work that’s surprising, moving, and meaningful.

Does their work have that affect on you too? How do you feel about what they’re doing? Do you connect with their art? Leave a comment.