Hughes’s reverspectives: Radical uses of linear perspective on non-coplanar surfaces

Thomas V. Papathomas, Patrick Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two major uses of linear perspective are in planar paintings—the flat canvas is incongruent with the painted 3-D scene—and in forced perspectives, such as theater stages that are concave truncated pyramids, where the physical geometry and the depicted scene are congruent. Patrick Hughes pioneered a third major art form, the reverse perspective, where the depicted scene opposes the physical geometry. Reverse perspectives comprise solid forms composed of multiple planar surfaces (truncated pyramids and prisms) jutting toward the viewer, thus forming concave spaces between the solids. The solids are painted in reverse perspective: as an example, the left and right trapezoids of a truncated pyramid are painted as rows of houses; the bottom trapezoid is painted as the road between them and the top forms the sky. This elicits the percept of a street receding away, even though it physically juts toward the viewer. Under this illusion, the concave void spaces between the solids are transformed into convex volumes. This depth inversion creates a concomitant motion illusion: when a viewer moves in front of the art piece, the scene appears to move vividly. Two additional contributions by the artist are discussed, in which he combines reverse-perspective parts with forced and planar-perspective parts on the same art piece. The effect is spectacular, creating objects on the same planar surface that move in different directions, thus “breaking” the surface apart, demonstrating the superiority of objects over surfaces. We conclude with a discussion on the value of these art pieces in vision science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number63
JournalVision (Switzerland)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Optometry
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


  • Depth inversion
  • Forced perspective
  • Illusory motion
  • Reverse perspective


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