By transforming bodies into 3-D optical illusions, some tattooists bend our minds, making it appear as if the cosmos resides in their clients or geometric figures are literally cut into their skin. Patterns like these have the power to challenge our sense of vision, reminding us that our perspective is not always as sound as we for granted. Whether it’s the classic blivet (impossible trident) or the titillating twists of a Penrose triangle, these perplexing figures also make for some incredibly engrossing tattoos. Here are a few examples in a wide variety of styles that illustrate just how mesmerizing illusory body art can be.
The reasons that tattoos like these fool our brains are difficult to account for as optical illusions affect the way we interpret what we see in a number of different ways. Sometimes rapid eye movement creates the false impression of motion in geometric figures, and in other instances, our peripheral vision causes us to picture what’s not really there. Ultimately, though, it’s the imperfect connection between our eyes and our brains that’s responsible for this exhilarating phenomenon.
Whenever we observe anything — the natural world, a movie, tattoos, you name it — the lenses of our eyeballs shoot light to our retinas, and our rods and cones register the various wavelengths. This information is transferred via the optic nerve to the brain, where the patterns of light are interpreted, using memory to make sense of the images. Under the right circumstances, this system totally breaks down because the info is simply too complex, and we begin to visualize things that aren’t really there.
The tattooists here all create optical illusions by toying with how we perceive depth. The human mind judges an object’s size based on its background, so by dramatically foregrounding shapes in their work, each artist imbues their work with a 3-D appearance. Ilya Cascad Kanaurov, Lewisink, and Nissaco demonstrate how the use of high contrast and juxtaposed geometric patterns can generate mind-boggling effects. Jesse Rix and Russ Abbott, on the other hand, employ dynamic color schemes to achieve a similar aesthetic. Regardless of how diverse their styles are, looking at their body art is more fun than flipping through a Magic Eye book.
To see more tattoos that warp reality, make sure to wind your way over to these artists’ Instagrams. If you want an impossible shape or isometric illusion inscribed on your body, have one of them design it. Their work will leave any admirer feeling dizzy with envy.