Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: Photoshop

Viktor Koen’s Steampunk Illusions

Viktor Koen’s steampunk visions populate a world of intricate illusions. He delights in making the physically impossible seem likely and predictable. Steampunk, conceived as a genre of science fiction, envisions a retro futuristic world powered by steam and the machine age.


detail from movie poster for Metropolis

Think of  Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis. In some sense, steampunk is a counterpoint or perhaps alternative universe to our own ever-digital, virtual world. Steampunk these days is often more about fashion, design and a look, like the one Viktor Koen is wearing.


Viktor Koen, from the TedxAthens site

His visual mix of the familiar with the fantastic is intriguing, graceful and strange – but all his images are quite carefully constructed, giving them an air of authenticity.

D.P.Toy No.19.72

D.P.Toy No.19.72

Perhaps you might see his creations as a commentary on our cultural icons of childhood, or a somewhat menacing satire exploding nostalgia and sentimentality.

D.P.Toy No.05.72

D.P.Toy No.05.72

Are we looking at the work of an adult exploring child’s play, a commentary on contemporary society, or just the musings of a fantastically gifted but peculiar artist?

D.P.Toy No.03.72

D.P.Toy No.03.72

However you want to categorize it, we’ve encountered Viktor Koen‘s work many times, perhaps without realizing it. Here are just a few mainstream examples:


cover of the NYT Book Review


Cover from Huffington Post Magazine




Cover for the NYT Dining Out Section

He’s an amazingly prolific and sought after graphic and visual artist, creating illustrations for major publications and personal work that juxtaposes images and ideas to make a point. He comes from a mix of cultures – born in Greece, trained at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel, with an MFA with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.


Viktor Koen in his studio, photo by Max Eternity

But, be warned, if you’re intrigued by what you see, you may find yourself spending hours wandering through the myriad images that haunt his website or at other sites that display his creations.

D.P.Toy No.40.72

D.P.Toy No.40.72

Because he’s so prolific, I thought I’d just write about two of his series, a fabricated collection of strange playthings he calls Dark Peculiar Toys and his Toyphabet. These two barely scratch the surface of what he’s about, but they do illustrate two recurring themes in his work – typography and mashups of the weird and wonderful.

Here’s Viktor, from an interview in Art Digital Magazine, talking about what led to his exhibit of Dark Peculiar Toys

I’m a toy collector.  I go to flea markets and fight with children over a bin of toys.  There’s no better excuse to buy toys, but to work on a series of toys.  I have a great time playing with them visually.

D.P.Toy No.10.72

D.P.Toy No.10.72

My father was an industrial designer and he gave me some of his old books and diagrams, and I retooled it to match the fictitious toys.  The whole project was very playful.  I always wanted to have these dark toys.

D.P.Toy No.20.72

D.P.Toy No.20.72

A lot of these are trial and error.  The juxtaposition of the sweet and something very wrong is something I always look for.

D.P.Toy No.16.72

D.P.Toy No.16.72

From Viktor’s Artist Statement about the exhibit

I photographed toys and objects that I collected through the years and travels, some of them parts of my personal childhood, and then mixed and matched them for hours. While this was a different form of play, the magic was the same.

D.P.Toy No.15.72

D.P.Toy No.15.72

A year after his Dark Peculiar Toys exhibit was launched, he used some of those concepts to create a mashup of the alphabet in his exhibit Toyphabet. He loves typography and finding just the right combination of alphabetical form and toy imagery was more difficult than you might think.



Viktor, from his Artist’s Statement:

Since typography is an addiction of mine and fusion a second nature to me, illustrated type became a natural extension of my work. The challenge of preserving the integrity of the type forms made the process of mixing and matching a complicated one. The result was characters with unexpected symbolic attributes, true to the original point of the series – that children are formulated way too early to the troubles ailing their parents.

I think there’s some part of us that enjoys being teased  about strange possibilities – like when we muse about an especially vivid dream. I think one of the attractions of Viktor’s work is how it seems so natural and strangely authentic while clearly it is not. The intricacy of the constructions makes us curious to find out more.

D.P.Toy No.09.72

D.P.Toy No.09.72

His work conjures an eclectic group of emotions and, while I wouldn’t want to encounter any of these object creatures in”real life,” they still tease the imagination with interesting possibilities. Maybe that’s the attraction of Viktor’s steampunk visions. We spend so much time plugged in to one machine or other, perhaps his creations point the way to the burgeoning cyborg in all of us.

D.P.Toy No.18.72

D.P.Toy No.18.72

At any rate, his work helps us see the world differently and for that we can be cautiously thankful. No, it’s not a lovely vision, but it does seem to echo the impermanence of our times and the hyper-wired world we find ourselves navigating.

So what do you think about his work? Do you like it? What does it conjure up for you? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.




Maggie Taylor’s Flights of Fancy

Maggie Taylor’s flights of fancy are a strange enchantment.


The Pretender

Her images seem to live outside the boundaries of time and space, merging the fantastical with the familiar.

Night gardeners.

Night Gardeners

They’re so engaging, they carry an almost hallucinatory power.

Maggie Taylor, Animal Dreams, 2010

Animal Dreams

At Yale, Maggie Taylor majored in philosophy. Four years later she pursued a Masters degree in photography. I wonder what pushed her to make such a dramatic change?


But Who Has Won

If philosophy is concerned with the search for universal truths, then perhaps Maggie discarded the abstractions of the mind to realize her own, more concrete “truths.” It’s her version of mind over matter – while her images reveal a vivid imagination, lurking in the background is a highly whimsical intellect. Even if we can’t completely decipher its meaning, each image seems to present a telling moment from some half-remembered dream.

wakeful rabbit

Wakeful Rabbit

Still, her flights of fancy don’t arrive full blown, rather they evolve. Maggie explains, from an interview in OC Art Blog:


Maggie Taylor

“Many times I am starting to work on images and I don’t have an idea of what the finished piece is going to be and they grow out of my own internal dialogue as I’m working. I might have a dream, I might have some little bit of a memory, or some little bit of a story running around in my head that gets filtered into the work. It’s really kind of random and I never know as I am working what I am going to end up with.”

Disappearing Witness

Disappearing Witness

When I first saw Maggie Taylor’s work I immediately thought of Joseph Cornell’s “tiny dreamlike universes” lovingly assembled in glass-encased worlds.

The Art of Happiness

Joseph Cornell, “The Art of Happiness”

Joseph Cornell "Medici Princess"

Joseph Cornell, “Medici Princess”

While the parallels are there, Cornell’s pieces are literally preserved under glass, making the work a little more removed. By contrast, Maggie’s imagery seems more present and inviting. Both she and Cornell were fascinated by nostalgic images of the past – he worked with the physical objects, she scans them into her computer. As Maggie describes:

6a00e553ed7fe1883301157256bb63970b-800wi“I collect stuff, all kinds of things. I collect old photographs, I collect old toys, I collect bits and pieces of fabric and I scan them in or photograph them if they won’t fit on the scanner… Then I make tons and tons of layers in a Photoshop file and put them all together, so it’s a digital collage… The whole process is very slow and I seem to only make ten or twelve images in an average year.”

Here’s an excellent video about Maggie Taylor’s flights of fancy:

Maggie Taylor Artist Video from VERVE Gallery of Photography on Vimeo.

I find her work uncluttered, spare and graceful – which is a real accomplishment given how easy it is to add and manipulate images via Photoshop. Typically, each piece draws your eye to one prominent image, even as you become aware of those whimsical touches lurking in her lush backgrounds.


The burden of dreams

It’s hard to categorize her work. Yes, there’s a dreamlike nostalgia and an ironic formality. But there’s also a sense of humor that invites you in to share the joke. I like her sense of the absurd that hovers around these images… and the playful reminder they offer not to take life too seriously.


So what do you think? Do you like her work? Leave a comment and let me know.

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.