3D artist wows travelers at Singapore's Changi Airport

3D artist wows travelers at Singapore's Changi Airport

Kurt Wenner's astonishing optical illusions are making the rush between connections a little more artful for Changi passengers

“That people interact with my work and it doesn’t get locked up in some millionaire’s villa is important to me,” says 3D artist Kurt Wenner, here with "The Millioniare Life," on display until November 11, 2012, at Singapore's Changi International Airport.
You might forgive fellow travelers at Singapore's Changi International Airport for doing something this summer that rushing passengers usually shouldn't do -- stop and stare at the floor.

In fact, you might be tempted to do the same when coming upon U.S. 3D art maestro Kurt Wenner's latest work, "The Millioniare Life."

Part of the airport's "Be A Changi Millionaire" promotion, the stunning piece of optical illusion is currently spread on a digitally scanned canvas across the marble floor of the Terminal 3 Departure Hall.

While the nine-by-nine-meter image appears to have a chalk texture, travelers can actually walk on it, sit on it and take pictures with it. A photo booth allows visitors to pose with the image and have pictures e-mailed to them.

A life of illusion

Wenner's most striking work is an astounding piece of pavement art based on the biblical "Last Judgement." An early example of what Wenner calls his "anamorphic street painting," the massive composition was created in 1984 in Mantua, Italy, and blessed by Pope John Paul II as an official form of sacred art.

Since then, images of Wenner’s classically styled pavement art, which seem to drop right into the floor or pop out of the street, have flooded e-mail inboxes and Facebook feeds.

Kurt Wenner's "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath), was created in an old town square in Mantua, Italy.

Wenner, 52, believes his clever fusion of technology with European classical art encourages viewer participation and makes his art more relevant, inciting curiosity and inspiring people to pursue their own artistic interests.

“That people interact with my work and it doesn’t get locked up in some millionaire’s villa is important to me,” he said in a recent interview in Singapore.

Wenner "sitting" on his Changi work's couch.

Street smart artist

While Wenner does the occasional gallery showing, street art is his preference.

“Society needs creativity and art very badly in our time,” he says. “The best thing you can do is open up doors for this. I don’t agree with the art gallery thing –- it doesn’t impact society at all.”

Like so many others, Wenner is counting on social media to bring his art –- and a revival of Renaissance classical form and technique –- to the masses.

When Wenner began doing pavement art on the streets of Rome in 1982, he knew he was onto something exciting. His unique form of busking began making him more money than he'd been getting paid for his work as an advanced scientific space illustrator at NASA, a career he gave up in order to study art in Italy.

When people began taking pictures of themselves "inside" his street drawings and forwarding them to friends, his popularity rocketed out of the stratosphere. His work has since been commissioned by numerous businesses and organizations, including Absolut Vodka, Disney Studios, Lexus, National Geographic and Xbox (Microsoft).

"The Flying Carpet," created by Wenner in 2009 in Bettona, Italy. “The combination of anamorphic street painting and social networking is extremely strong,” he says. “The public want to be protagonists. So this way of encouraging interaction with the art attracts the public. When they participate they also disseminate the message. It’s like guerrilla marketing.”

Only temporary

In person, Wenner's illusions aren't immediately apparent. Walk past “The Millionaire Life” and it looks like nothing more than a warped, disproportionate image.

To make the image pop, viewers stand at the bottom of the mural, make an “O” with their thumb and forefinger, close one eye and look through the “O” with the other. Immediately the "hole" in the floor opens up, the currency begins to float and the full impact of the 3D image is revealed.

Sadly, the digital canvas Wenner uses can't be transported. Once the piece is dismantled, it will exist only in photographs.

The temporary nature of his work doesn't bother Wenner.

“The very nature of this art form keeps you from being attached to it as a product," he says.

"The works are experiences which, all together, are going to add up to something. What happens when I walk away is inconsequential.” 

“The Millionaire Life” is on display at Changi International Airport Terminal 3 Departure Hall until November 11. More Wenner works can be viewed at Kurtwenner.com.

Aimee Chan is an Australian editor and writer based in Singapore. She enjoys travel, food, books and good company, not necessarily in that order.

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