Oakes’ perspective

Inspired by nature and the Renaissance

Alexandra Korey
June 30, 2011

Ryan and Trevor Oakes, 26-year-old American twin brothers, are conducting experiments in perspective drawing, fittingly in Florence, on Brunelleschi and Alberti's stomping grounds. From June 22 through 30, they were in residence in the courtyard at Palazzo Strozzi, just a stone's throw from the church of Santa Maria Novella, inside of which Masaccio's Trinity has amazed viewers with its realistic rendering of depth since the first decades of the fifteenth century. In the Choistro Verde next door, Paolo Uccello depicted his painstakingly perspectival Deluge. Invited to Florence to participate in New York University's conference on Art and Beauty held June 18, the Oakes brothers' stay was extended by the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, whose building represents the perfect blend of Renaissance and contemporary to host this project.


In the Strozzi courtyard, visitors observed the brothers at work and even served as models for their project. There they saw a modified easel supporting a spherical grid upon which the brothers placed paper, cut specifically for this purpose. A few inches from the paper, a gesso cap held the artist's head-and in particular his left eye-at the center of the spherical drawing grid so that the paper plane was wrapped around that point, always equidistant from it.


Asked to explain their system, Trevor started, and Ryan completed his thoughts:


‘Our technique uses binocular vision in an innovative way. One eye looks at a distant point while the other is blocked by the paper; the brain automatically solves that difference by making the paper look ghost-like. This can be used to create realistic renderings in a technique that is almost like tracing reality onto that ghost paper. It intercepts the calculation that our brain makes about three dimensional space without having to do the math required for one or multiple point perspective. Our method is an experientially accurate rendering of the infinitely vanishing characteristics of real three dimensional space.'


The jump from any discussion of perspective to Brunelleschi, credited as the inventor of one-point perspective, is a natural one. Have the twins improved upon the Renaissance master's theories? Not an improvement but an extension, they diplomatically said: ‘We feel a kinship with Brunelleschi. The Renaissance sought to understand various aspects of nature, and they arrived at linear perspective. Through similar lines of inquiry-looking at the nature of the human eye-we have arrived at this.'


For some time, Ryan and Trevor have been planning to reproduce Brunelleschi's experiment of drawing the Baptistery from the steps of the Duomo, and during this trip they have been making arrangements to return, they hope, in fall 2012. When they visited Florence as children, they found climbing the Duomo the highlight of the experience. This time, however, they have been appreciating the renderings of Florence's architecture by its Renaissance painters and enjoyed seeing the same landscapes and streetscapes as those men who formed such fundamental insights into the nature of human vision.


See and read more about the Oakes' brothers' work at www.oakesoakes.com.

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