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HomemifeatureAn Eye For Art

An Eye For Art

Throughout the ages, eyes have caught the imagination of artists who have attempted to depict their extraordinary beauty, power and emotion.

The eyes are said to be ‘our windows to the world’ or ‘the windows to our soul’ – depending on how you look at them.

More than any other sense, they help us navigate our way through life. Within infinitesimal time, they alert us to dangers as well as opportunities, help us make decisions and build relationships.

They instantly communicate our emotions without the need to utter a word. Young lovers gaze intently into each other’s eyes. Tired, spent couples storm past each other without so much as a glance. Small children are encouraged to ‘look people in the eye’ in an effort to communicate respect, honesty and interest. And specialists look into eyes for clues of diseases that could be waging war with the body.

The human eye is one of our most familiar images

Across many cultures and throughout the ages, artists have used the eye to symbolise the protection that comes from being able to watch over people and see into the future. In surrealist art, the eye is a recurring motif, which symbolises perception and often alludes to female sexual anatomy.

In contemporary art, the eye has been studied as an organ of great complexity, depth, beauty and interest. Here are a few of the art world’s more famous depictions of the eye…

Title: Mona Lisa

Artist: Leonardo DaVinci

The most famous and discussed work of ‘eye’ art would have to be the Mona Lisa, Leonardo’s tiny painting, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

Mona Lisa’s eyes appear to lock on and follow you wherever you go – they are at once intriguing and haunting. In 2010, it was reported that the National Committee for Cultural Heritage in Italy found letters and numbers in the 500-year-old masterpiece by magnifying the eyes of the painting.

According to art historian and president of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage Silvano Vinceti, when viewed by a magnifying glass, the letters ‘LV’ can be seen in the right eye and the letters E, C or B in the left eye. While L and V are likely to refer to the artist’s initials, historians believe the letters in the left eye may reference the painting’s model.

Author Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code tells the story of hidden messages contained in Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings.

Title: Eye

Artist: Tony Tasset, Chicago

By all accounts, this much photographed giant eyeball, created by artist and sculptor Tony Tasset, had passers-by gobsmacked when it landed in Chicago in the summer of 2010.

‘Eye’ was modelled after one of the artist’s own blue eyeballs. Sections of the giant nine-metre high fibreglass sphere arrived at Pritzker Park in Chicago via four trucks, in carefully cut, expressway-friendly pieces ready for installation.

The sculpture took six months to create from concept to completion. It was planned on a computer and a model, 1/24th of the final size, was built in sections before full-scale moulds for each section were made. The sections were joined together with a steel structure underneath, much like a house.

Tony Tasset said the iris was the final and most beautiful part of the puzzle to be completed before a glossy coat was applied, which makes the eye appear “wet, gross and nasty”.

“It’s meant to be funny and weird and it’s one of those images that is so recognisable that I think people will project a lot of things on to it,” said the artist.

Title: Eye Benches and Eyes
Artist: Louise Bourgeois, New York

Eyebenches is a pair of quirky and contemporary yet functional sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, acclaimed to be one of the most influential living artists. The eye-shaped sculptures are in fact metal seats and the third pieces of art to be installed as part of a project entitled Sculpture for New Orlean, designed to reinvigorate the city following Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods of 2005.

Clearly artist Louise Bourgeois has a fascination with eyes – along with a few versions of the eye benches, she created ‘Eyes’, a stunning highly polished surrealist work. The beautiful eyes of this sculpture, feature a carved opening at each centre, and sit on top of an enormous marble block that resembles a house. Plenty to be read into this one!

Title: The Optrex Eye

Artist: Harvey Hood, Wales

This eye is modelled from Michelangelo’s David, and as such, is referred to as a heroic eye. It is blown up to 45 times the size of a normal eye and made from Ferro-cement.

“The human eye is one of our most familiar images,” said the artist Harvey Hood.

“We communicate our emotions to each other by eye contact. The eye is the only real barrier in life – it is the division between our mind and our world… The eyeball lies in a landscape of emotions raised on a hill like a castle. The sculpture invites the spectator to go behind the surface and look back through the pupil, as if he is entering the mind.”

Title: Eye Idol

Artist: Mesopotamian

This figurine from circa 3700–3500 B.C was made of stone with incised eyes. It was excavated at Tell Brak, a Mesopotamian archaeological site in northeastern Syria, where thousands of similar sculptures were found in a building now called the Eye Temple. Many are incised with multiple sets of eyes, others with jewellery, and some with representations of children. The idols are believed to be offerings; their wide eyes demonstrate attentiveness to the gods.

Title: Pair of Eyes

Artist: Greek

You might expect this intricate pair of eyes to be exhibited in a contemporary gallery. In fact these extraordinary bronze eyes are believed to have been crafted in the 5th Century B.C. or later, for an over-life-size Greek statue.

Title: Rain God

Artist: Mexican

The 13th Century ‘Rain God’ mask from ancient Mexico is carved from a light green serpentine. It depicts the rain god Tlaloc with the characteristic ringed eyes, prominent teeth, and a mouth with an upper lip-moustache that curls on each side. He also wears a nose bar in the
nasal septum.

Dance Wand (Bair)

Artist: Papua New Guineans

The Papua New Guinean dance wand (bair) is believed to have been made sometime in the late 19th to early 20th Century. It was designed for tena buai, men and women of Tolai, who were initiated into the sacred knowledge of music. Men carry Bair in pairs during a dance known as kulau (young coconut). The central image, which represents spirits (tabalivana), is often highly stylised and always includes at least one anatomical feature such as eyes or a limb.

Title: God’s Eye

Artist: Huichol Indians, Mexico

The Ojo de Dios or God’s Eye is a weaving made across two or more sticks and is believed to have originated with the Huichol Indians of Jalisco, Mexico. The four points of the weaving represent the elements of earth, fire, air and water.

The Huichol call their God’s Eyes Sikuli, which means “the power to see and understand things unknown”. According to tradition, when a child is born, the father weaves the central eye. One eye is added for every year of the child’s life until the child reaches the age of five.

Title: Eye of a Needle

Artist: Willard Wigan, England

Micro sculptor Willard Wigan is a contemporary artist and reportedly the only person in the world to do what he does. Using a tiny surgical blade, he carves incredible microscopic figures out of rice, grains of sand, sugar and even particles of dust. He then displays them on pinheads, the tip of an eyelash, a grain of sand – or even in the eye of a needle. Glasses won’t help you with these sculptures – you need a microscope to see them!

Title: Sarcophagus

Artist: Egyptian

This weathered eye from an Egyptian sarcophagus, or stone coffin, has been dated back to the 1st century A.D. Even plain Egyptian coffins were adorned with a pair of eyes, so that the deceased could ‘see’.

Title: Five Wandjinas

Artist: Jack Dale

In Indigenous Australian culture Wandjina (pronounced ‘wannia’) is the supreme Creator and a symbol of fertility and rain. According to art experts, ancestors have painted Wandjina figures in rock art sites scattered throughout the western Kimberley for millennia, making this the oldest continuous sacred painting movement on the planet.

Wandjinas are depicted with large eyes, like the eye of a storm, but no mouth – a mouth would make them too powerful. They have elaborate headdresses, which indicate different types of storms.

Title: My Beautiful Retina

Artist: Emmanuel Calligeros

According to Sydney optometrist Emmanuel Calligeros, my “beautiful retina”, captured using a Canon CR-DGI Non-mydriatic retinal camera speaks volumes about the health of my eye. By comparing images of my retina over time, Emmanuel will create a unique collection of eye art that not only holds visual fascination but will also help me maintain the power and health of my most vital sense.

With this in mind, you’d have to say that retinal photography must be the ultimate form of eye art and one that optical professionals are fortunate to be engaged in every working day.