Kurt Wenner is one of the world’s leading artists, most famous for inventing interactive 3D art illusions. His work has appeared in more than 30 countries, and in 1991 he received the Kennedy Center Medallion for his outstanding contribution to art education.
In the 1980s, he left his job at NASA and moved to Europe to study the great works of art. By unlocking long lost secrets of geometry and proportion, he conceived the idea for his 3D images. He went on to pioneer bringing art outdoors to the public, as well as making it interactive.
Wenner’s body of work also includes large-scale oil paintings, ceramic murals, sculptures, illusion rooms, and architectural design. Most of this work is found in private estates of some of the world’s most wealthy and famous personalities.
His expertise, innovation, and artistry across so many mediums makes Wenner’s work unrivaled.
Kurt Wenner was raised in Santa Barbara, California, an area with beautiful architecture and stunning gardens. These influences set him on a path seeking the connection that tied things of beauty together.
As a boy, he transformed his parent’s hand-cut stone garage into an art studio. It was a popular neighborhood hang-out, and Wenner would help kids of all ages create inventions and paintings, or sculpt imaginative characters out of clay. By the time he was 16, he had worked in graphic arts and received his first mural commission.
After high school, still inspired by the skill and beauty of master drawings, he sought instruction at the top art schools attending RISD in Rhode Island and then Art Center in California. While at Art Center he was recruited by NASA to work as an advanced space illustrator. He was among the last highly-skilled artists whose work was done solely by hand.
In 1982 he left NASA and moved to Rome, Italy, in pursuit of understanding how great drawings and paintings of the past were created. To his astonishment, he discovered no one there was teaching the principles of classicism.
Disappointed to find the Italians couldn’t explain how their magnificent art and architecture were made, he devised a self-study program. He settled in a pensione facing the Pantheon and set off each morning for the Vatican Museums. He spent countless hours drawing from the magnificent art collection. Museum guards and passing tourists bought his drawings on the spot, enabling him to support his stay in Rome.
Eventually, through drawing the masterpieces, he realized classicism was a visual language of form traditionally learned by copying earlier works of art. Twentieth-century critics disdained the classical tradition as imitative – yet we acquire all languages through imitation. Unfortunately, they failed to see what could be achieved once the skill set was mastered.
On his way to the Vatican each day, he would pass artists his age creating images with chalk on the pavement. Stopping to chat with one on his way home, he was invited him to try his hand at the art form. Within the year he invented 3D pavement art.
News of this new art form traveled fast, and National Geographic arrived in Italy to make a documentary of his work. The crew also went to Switzerland where they captured the many challenges faced, including rain, while creating a large pastel image outdoors. The documentary, Masterpieces in Chalk, won numerous awards and introduced Wenner and his 3D pavement art to the world.
Over the years, his images have captivated audiences in more than 30 countries. The immense popularity of his work led to the opening of the 3D Museum of Wonders in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a 27,000 square foot (2,500 square meters) exhibit space dedicated solely to his interactive images.
In addition to his art, he has been an inspirational speaker at corporate and public events, a lecturer for the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a workshop leader for Disney and Warner Brothers Studios. Hoping to inspire a love of classicism in a new generation, he taught more than 100,000 students over ten years. In 1991, he received the Kennedy Center Medallion in recognition of his contribution to arts education.
Even though we are now in an era of virtual reality and 3D imagery, classical drawing remains the best conceptual tool for understanding dimensional forms in perspective space. It is an essential tool that allows us to create new inventions.”
Kurt Wenner’s mastery of classicism gives him the ability to work across all fields and mediums. His body of work includes architectural designs, large-scale oil paintings, ceramic murals, sculptures, illusion rooms, fountains, and more. Most of his permanent work is in the private estates of the world’s most wealthy and famous personalities.
Although he continues to cover the globe, now and then you will find him at the hotel that used to be his pensione in the heart of Rome.