The history behind the magical realism of Rob Gonsalves

Today I would really like to show you the fascinating work of Robert (Rob) Gonsalves (1959 – 2017), a Canadian artist whose works fall into the category of magic realism. The simplest definition is that unusual or fantastical things are included as ordinary occurrences in pictures that are otherwise about normal, every-day life.

However, to understand how magic realism developed, in art terms,^ it is useful to look back and understand a little about Realism, the movement it was derived from.

Realism began as an artistic movement in the 19th century, led by French artists Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet. Before Millet and Courbet, artists of the Romantic period had produced work that idealized reality, and made everything beautiful and perfect, whether it was landscapes, still lifes, portraits or figurative art.

Courbet was instead committed to painting only what he could see, and rejected the academic convention, perfection and stylisation of Romanticism. He courted controversy by addressing social issues in his work, and by painting subjects that were considered vulgar, such as the rural bourgeoisie, peasants, and working conditions of the poor. His work, along with that of Honoré Daumier and Jean-François Millet, became known as Realism.1

Realism as a movement also grew with the invention of photography, because artists were able to look at true reality captured in a moment of time, especially the effect of light, and could use these photographs as their inspiration instead of posed models.

Anne has also looked at the work of Courbet in a previous post, with a particular focus on eyes, and if you are interested to click here.

(As an aside, those of our readers who are interested in Impressionism and Cubism may know that Courbet taught artists such as Rousseau, Corot and Edouard Manet, who in turn influenced Monet, Sisley, Bazille, Degas, Morisot, Renoir and others in the 1860s. These artists took realism to a whole new level, particularly en plein air, which we all know now as Impressionism.)

Just as realism was a response to romanticism, magical realism was a further development to realism. The term magical realism was introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic in 1925. When Roh coined the term he meant it to create an art category that strayed from the strict guidelines of realism, but the term did not name an artistic movement until the 1940s in Latin America and the Caribbean.1

In 1942, the Museum of Modern Art in New York showcased Magic Realism in the exhibition American Realists and Magic Realists. It featured works by a variety of artists, including Ivan Albright, Peter Blume, Edward Hopper, and Andrew Wyeth, some of whom we have previously featured in the AnArt4Life blog.

Since then, the lines between Surrealism, Magical Realism and Optical Illusions have become somewhat blurred, as can be seen in the art created by artists ranging from Oleg Shuplyak to M.C. Esher in this article: click here.

In particular, as mentioned, I am keen to show you more of the work of Rob Gonsalves who no doubt was influenced by some of these artists. Gonsalves was born in Toronto and graduated in Architecture, in which field he worked for a few years before embarking on his painting career full time. 2

Rob passed away in 2017, but his family continue to maintain and safeguard his legacy. His official website states: ”His architectural studies gave him the skill sets to manipulate points of view, perspective and scale in 2-D and enabled him to bend and play with reality.2

Rob Gonsalves drew from his own personal narrative. He was inspired by Toronto and New York architecture, the night sky and the rugged, Eastern Ontario landscape of rock, trees and lakes where he eventually settled in 2001. 2

He once said, "I believe that there is a real magic in life. Sometimes the experience of it can be dependent on one’s point of view. I have come to see the making of art as the search for that point of view where the magic and wonder of life appears not so much as an illusion, but as an essential truth that often gets obscured.2

Please take some time to look at each of these pictures individually. The more you look, the more you will see …..

25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings By Rob Gonsalves
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The official website of Rob Gonsalves has even more images of his work, as well as details about the prints that are available click here.

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  1. Credit Kelsey McKinney,
  2. Credit

^Note: today the term "Magic Realism" belongs as much to a style of literature as it does to art.