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No, they haven't dug up New York's Union Square

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

Fountain of Youth in Union Square

It takes something special to make hurrying New Yorkers stop in their tracks, but I'll bet guineas to gooseberries they'll halt goggle-eyed when they spot this three-dimensional chalk drawing by British pavement artist Julian Beever on the south side of Union Square. This isn't the type of chalk drawing a New York commercial cleaning service would be in a rush to remove, since the work is art and not graffiti.

Makers of a new anti-aging product commissioned Beever, nicknamed the "Pavement Picasso," to create a modern-day Fountain of Youth in the core of the Big Apple.

Painted on the two-D surface of the sidewalk is an incredibly realistic 3D image of a fountain splashing water into a blue pool. An attractive girl is standing in the shrub-lined pool, and at the far end a man is testing the depth of the water with one foot. But it's all a magnificent illusion.

Following Rome's "three coins in a fountain" custom, spectators are invited to toss coins into the fountain and make a wish. For every penny pitched into the "fountain," a donation will be made to the Keep America Beautiful campaign.

Beever began his career creating chalk art to finance his travels around the globe. Based in Britain, he has made pavement drawings for more than 10 years. He has worked in the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, the USA and Australia, according to his website. He specialises in pavement drawings, wall murals and traditional paintings.

How does he achieve that incredible 3D effect? Vaughan Bell, of Cardiff (Wales) University's School of Psychology, says:

Julian Beever is a street artist who takes advantage of the way the brain understands the world to create some amazing artwork. The brain works out our 3D experience of the world from the 2D light patterns that fall onto our retina at the back of the eye.

This process takes advantage of many of our implicit assumptions of the world, such as the fact that textures will fade as they go farther away, parallel lines will tend to converge in the distance and that objects will seem larger the closer they are.

Julian Beever's art uses a knowledge of these processes, so when seen from a certain angle, the pictures fool the visual system's inbuilt processes to produce a false sense of depth.

When seen from an alternative angle, the illusion breaks down, and it's possible to see how the artwork was created.

Turning to other visual illusions, Michael Bach's website in Germany claims to have attracted two million hits a day. It shows rotating circles and other colorful patterns which make you dizzy when you look at them.

"These pages demonstrate visual phenomena, called optical illusions or visual illusions," he says. "The latter is more appropriate, because most effects have their basis in the visual pathway, not in the optics of the eye...

"Most visitors of this site are not vision scientists, so you might find the explanatory attempts too highbrow. That is not on purpose, but vision research just is not trivial, like any science. So, if the explanation sounds like rubbish, simply enjoy the phenomenon."

New York's Fountain of Youth is the brainchild of Rohit Bhargava, vice-president of interactive marketing for Ogilvy Public Relations, one of the world's largest global PR agencies. Bhargava, who spent four years in Australia, now lives in Washington DC.

"I am in New York today working on an interesting project for Aveeno where we have commissioned Julian Beever to create a three dimensional pavement painting as part of the skincare brand's support for the social marketing campaign - Keep America Beautiful," he says in his blog. He adds:

For those unfamiliar with Julian's work, he is known as the 'Pavement Picasso' and has a huge following in Europe, Australia and many other places outside the US. This commissioned piece is his first in New York and was officially unveiled at 10am this morning in Union Square...

There will be a viral video we are posting on YouTube early next week that is a time-lapse of the creation of this fountain (the first such video of his work to be published online) and there are several other activities planned to help get the word out about the campaign.

It's a great example of a fun stunt that is designed to drive awareness for Aveeno, and also support for the Keep America Beautiful campaign. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it (especially those in NY who are able to make it out to see the painting in person).

For everyone else, you can check out a gallery of all of Julian's past work on Flickr, and add your own comments.

If you would like to see a great selection of Beever's mind-boggling art in various cities around the world, take a look at this video.


Story first posted February 2007

Copyright 2007

Eric Shackle

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