Trevor and Ryan Oakes: Artist Talk
"Art is the playground of the physical world.
Light is the medium of all visual art.
Any piece of visual material—art, nature, literature—that may spark awe in the mind will come through the gates of the eyes.
Early on, for subject matter in our art, we tended toward the investigation of center points. Centrally oriented clusters where things collected, or from which they dispersed, seemed to be everywhere in the physical world—from atoms to the human embryo to city centers to planetary bodies. Their abundance gives them significance, and we chose to focus much of our early art around the investigation and creation of center points.
Within the territory of center points, light in particular, became a primary focus. Light bursting into a growing sphere from its source; the eye extracting an inverted spherical burst of light from the air, converging at the pupil; and space as it appears to shrink to a vanishing point on the horizon line are among the center-point phenomena present within light. Light, the eyes looking via light, and the space they ultimately take in, thus became a core of our artistic exploration."
The Oakes Twins
Trevor and Ryan Oakes — Colorado-born identical twins who are now based in New York City (where they received B.F.A.s from Cooper Union in 2004) — have been engaged in an increasingly consuming conversation on the nature of their respective experiences of vision, which sparked a series of jointly built artworks that explore human vision, light, and perception.
Their art stems from two conceptual breakthroughs. First, the insight that contrary to virtually every representation in our daily lives (paintings, television, movies, billboards, and so forth) — which, following the lead of Renaissance thinkers, envision us as gazing into the world as if through a flat window — in fact, each of us actually experiences the world as if centered within a giant perceptual sphere. Therefore, the Oakes' realized, when drawing realistically it would be truer to the experience of vision if one rendered the world onto the inside of spherically curved paper.
Second, using the phenomenon of double vision, the Oakes' invented an exacting way to accomplish this, freehand, as if by way of a camera obscura or a camera lucida projection, only without any optical equipment other than the mental mechanics of binocular vision. Their works use spherically curved surfaces to re-envision some of the norms (such as the flat picture plane) that have held sway in Western pictures for hundreds of years. They built a homemade, spherically curved easel (equipped with a plaster head-stabilizing device) and developed a self-invented drawing technique to facilitate creating optically accurate hand-drawings while standing on-site at a given location. This drawing technique, which harnesses and repurposes the phenomenon of double vision into a visual measuring tool, has been described by Columbia University's perceptual historian Jonathan Crary as "one of the most original breakthroughs in the rendering of visual space since the Renaissance."
The Oakes brothers have work in collections at the Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Museum, the Field Museum, the Spertus Museum, the New York Public Library, and the North Dakota Museum of Art. They have had residencies at the New York Public Library (2016), the Drawing Center (2015), the Getty Center (2014-15 and 2011), the North Dakota Museum of Art (2013), EMPAC (2012), Palazzo Strozzi Museum (2011), and the Field Museum (2009).
Currently, their work is on display at the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art through March 2017.