“I’m not sure I could have a painting like this in my dining room,” I thought to myself, relating everything, as I do, to eating. I was looking at the works of Oak Park’s Scott Stack, on exhibit right now at the Chicago Cultural Center.
“They make me dizzy,” said Carolyn, and indeed some of Stack’s paintings give the viewer a kind of vertigo, a sense that the surface is undulating in a way that defies the laws of physics: a static painting that appears to be animated. Jagged diagonals, horizontals that don’t remain horizontal, painted surfaces that seem to move. The painting is not in motion, of course: the sense of movement reflects how our brains are processing the shapes.
Traditional Western art, since at least the Italian Renaissance, has presented paintings as a kind of window on the world, a representation of what you might see if you were in a particular place at a particular time. Stack’s art is not trying to portray the world; the intent is more graphic and, in a way, more visually powerful because it exploits the laws of human perception: it challenges the way we see.
“You’re playing with our brains, aren’t you?” I said to Stack, who was there last Friday, the opening night of his exhibit. He agreed that he sort of was doing that, explaining that the perceived movement in his work is a result “of our brain’s tendency to make patterns, to make sense of the visual. I want people to think about how they see.”
Stack’s paintings many times present a series of parallel lines – moving up, down and sideways – that start the mind traveling along a certain path, only to thwart that movement and go off in another direction. The result is the illusion of movement, and the sensation can be quite enjoyable, maybe a little like riding a roller coaster.
After we mentioned to Stack that it’d be challenging to have this art in, for instance, a dining room, Stack totally agreed and told us that they were meant more for “large public spaces, where people might be just walking by.” That makes sense. The paintings offer powerful visual cues, and if you stared at them long enough, you might just fall over. But that’s a very cool effect of Stack’s painting, giving you a chance to experience the way his paintings manipulate our perceptions and make us see movement when there can be no actual movement, except in the mind. It’s both unsettling and fascinating.
The show catalog, written by Oak Parker Matthew Girson, provides much more insight into Stack’s paintings. The show – Interior/Exterior – is one of several exhibits at the Chicago Cultural Center, running through May. Maybe you should go before eating lunch or dinner.