Mernet Larsen, Dawn (after El Lissitzky), 2012, Acrylic on Canvas. James Cohan Gallery, New York. © Mernet Larsen 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, NLew York. Photo by Phoebe d’Heurle.
Linear perspective is an unforgiving taskmaster. Anyone who has sat down with pencil and paper—a ruler and eraser are helpful, as well—in the attempt to create a legible illusion of dimension knows as much. The slightest error in connecting forms to a given vanishing point or, in the case of isometric perspective, set of axes will make for a clumsy picture. A giveaway of the amateur artist is, in fact, the floundering of perspectival logic—it’s there to see in the work of any number of Sunday painters or folk artists. A sure sign of an artist’s mastery is not only how consistently perspective is employed, but, conversely, how it can be distorted and still remain pictorially true. The Surrealist cityscapes of Giorgio de Chirico would be considerably less haunting were their desolate vistas rendered consistently; that we don’t mistake the liberties de Chirico took with perspective as bad drawing points to the level of his expertise.