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A joyous metamorphosis of pixels

Meet Bernard Pras – an assembly artist based in Paris who creates iconic three-dimensional photographs from seemingly worthless throw-away objects.

From one angle, the jumble might seem random and strange but from another you can clearly make out the famous faces of characters both real and fictional – including Medusa, Salvador Dali, Venus, Albert Einstein and, yes, Lolo Ferrari.

It doesn’t matter what it is or how it was formerly used, assembly artist Bernard Pras will adopt any object if it has the right shape and colour. Scraps of textile, children’s toys, pocket knives and the ghostly remains of an old bicycle – it’s all stored in his Paris atelier because it just might be the missing piece he is looking for to complete one of his oeuvres.  

With great patience and precision, Pras lays out all of the individual items on a neutral background on the floor. Overhead, he has installed a camera which he uses periodically to take pictures to check on his progress. ‘I have to know whether the picture is coming together accurately,’ he comments.

So how does he do it? Bras is inspired by anamorphosis – a method of visualisation which centres around a distorted projection or perspective. The basic meaning of the word is ‘to form again’ and it describes a technique used by none other than Leonardo da Vinci to create an optical illusion.

The result is colourful representations of a range of figures, from legendary musicians like Jimmy Hendrix and beloved Disney characters such as Snow White to kings and queens from times long past, including King Louis XIV.

A new impression

Bras experimented with recreating various styles of art and found that one he really liked was impressionism. ‘Such a painting consists of many small dobs of colour that give the illusion of a larger piece,’ Pras explains. ‘That’s the function of the objects I choose; they are the pixels I rely on to build the picture.’

Stacking the countless colour nuances, as with paint, gives rise to Monet’s acclaimed oceans, mountains and sandy beaches. ‘I feel like I could do ten at a time, at least,’ says Pras, who started out as a painter himself. ‘The thing is, whenever I am done with a work, I feel rather empty. It can take a while before I regain the energy to create another piece.’

Bittersweet goodbyes

Over the past two decades, Pras has gained a considerable reputation for his unusual constructions, travelling to Austria, Ireland and even China and Korea for assignments and exhibitions. His portfolio is a lucrative one: a large original print photograph can sell for up to US$ 10 000 while commissioned installations can attract as much as US$ 30 000.

In creating his artworks, Pras says he favours the inclusion of objects that have a strong link to the person being depicted. A team of assistants helps him to scour for these eye-catching items. It then takes an average of three weeks to set up and finish a large installation.

Ultimately, however, the installations are destroyed and only the photographs remain. ‘Throwing away the objects that have become part of a “personality” is hard to do,’ Pras admits. ‘But it is part of it, isn’t it? There is an end to each project.’

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