'Pavement Picasso' dazzles pedestrians with 3D masterpieces

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The Independent Online

Holy illusions! It's a trick The Joker himself would have been proud of.

In full view of onlookers in the middle of a London street the caped crusaders Batman and Robin scale the side of a burning building to rescue international artist Julian Beever, who is perched on the edge of... the pavement.

The super-hero scene is the work of the man dubbed the "pavement Picasso" for his talent at creating mind-blowing images on the sidewalks of everyday locations around the world.

The 46-year-old artist, who is based in Belgium, has spent most of the past 20 years painting with chalk to produce stunning 3D images which mix reality with fantasy to fool the eyes and trick the minds of passers-by. From giant cola bottles to swimsuited cartoon sunbathers, Beever has made a name for himself creating illusions around the world, from Australia to the US and most of the major European countries that fall in between.

When viewed from certain angles, Beever's intricately detailed chalk sketches create a convincing impression of depth on the flat surface of paving stones.

From other perspectives, however, his drawings appear strangely distorted and bear little resemblance to their intended image.

To construct his illusions Beever, originally from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, uses a camera lens to help him manipulate the image on the flat surface to appear more realistic.

By using techniques of perspective pioneered by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century and Hans Holbein in the 17th century, Beever's anamorphic art blends reality with art to fool the human eye into seeing an image that doesn't truly exist.

The human brain works out 3D images based on the information it receives from the 2D light patterns that fall on to the retina at the back of the eye. When added to the brain's knowledge and experience of how parallel lines converge in the distance and objects seem larger the closer they are, Beever alters those perspectives to create his illusions.

Beever became interested in pavement art while working with a Punch & Judy show in York during the 1980s, when he first came across the work of other practitioners.

"I decided to get into 3D after seeing the effect of tiles being removed from the street, and later trying to recreate the sense of depth in a drawing," he once explained.

Each of his creations can take up to three days to complete and, by their nature as street art, are never permanent. "If it rains it means I've done a lot of hard work for nothing, but I usually manage to avoid that," he said.

His best known works - photographs of which are widely available on the internet - include a deep swimming pool so realistic that shoppers swerve to avoid it, a fountain in the middle of a pedestrian walkway and a 3D drawing of the Earth that was used to highlight the Make Poverty History campaign.

In addition to his 3D art Beever also paints murals, replicas of old masters, oil paintings and collages. He is often commissioned by commercial organisations or groups looking to highlight a particular campaign or message.

"My art is for anybody, it's for people who wouldn't go into an art gallery. It's art for the people," he said.