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Trompe l’oeil specialist a master of illusion

A 50-foot high wave engulfs a downtown park. A college receives complaints about a campus building’s crumbling decay. That’s just two of more than 200 examples of mural trickery created by artist John Pugh over the past 30 years. Specializing in the art of trompe l’oeil - French for “deceives the eye” - Pugh creates the illusion of objects and even people with realistic, three-dimensional detail. With April Fool’s Day just, well, days away, now is as good a time as any to enjoy a few illusions courtesy of Pugh, whose studio is perched in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. “I have found that the language of life-size illusions allows me to effectively communicate with a very large audience,” says Pugh. “People take delight in being visually tricked.” Pugh sees his work as a way to bring aesthetics to art in public places, and even help spur economic development. “I strive to design a mural in a way that is atypical or not in a commonplace mural format,” he says. “The passerby is much more apt to engage with an uncommon architectural event or phenomenon.” While much of his art is publicly commissioned, Pugh has also created murals for everyone from Pepsi Cola to Academy Award-nominated actress Debra Winger. If you want to enjoy Pugh’s mural trickery in person, his website artofjohnpugh.com has a world map highlighting locations of his public art.

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Photo by Photo courtesy John Pugh

Jazz music seems to jump off this wall of the Hermosa Beach (Calif.) Chamber of Commerce building. The mural is titled “Key of C” and, according to the Hermosa Beach Murals Project, the mural can be moved for display at other locations around town.

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Photo by Photo courtesy John Pugh

The ivy, the door and even the hand “opening” it for visitors are all illusions created by muralist John Pugh. Called “Doors of Avignon,” it is one of a series of residential murals for the South San Francisco Arts Commission.

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Photo by Photo courtesy John Pugh

Commissioned by the Lompoc Mural Society, “Redemption of the Chumash” reflects three eras of history for Lompoc, Calif., a U.S. Naval ship, a Spanish galleon and a Chumash canoe.

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Photo by Photo courtesy John Pugh

A dramatic example of the before and after impacts of public art murals is John Pugh’s “Extended Family,” which in 2007 transformed a blank, brown stone wall at a Sacramento juvenile hall visitors lobby into a welcoming atrium.

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Photo by Photo courtesy John Pugh

Muralist John Pugh’s first major commission was “Academe,” for his alma mater, Chico State University in 1980. The illusion - complete with fake chunks of plaster and rebar painted on the wall - is so lifelike that the university has received complaints from people, asking when the wall is going to be fixed.

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