This morning’s New York Times had an article and slideshow on BMW’s painted by more or less famous artists. My favorite is the design by Cesar Manrique, shown here a bit smaller than in the slideshow:

Now it may seem a long way from the Le Mans of Hervé Poulain or even from New York’s Grand Central Terminal, but the small Montana town of West Yellowstone (as the name suggests, just west of Yellowstone National Park) did a similar thing a couple years ago when they commissioned local artists to paint life-size bison sculptures that were placed around town.

Especially interesting here, from an artistic point of view (but I don’t neglect the relevance, especially these days, of the commercial significance), is the reversal of the common problem of representing 3-D space in a 2-D painting. Here the painter’s 2-D mindset must deal with the 3-D-ness of the sculptures. That means not only non-flatness and the volumetric cues, but the fact that the surface is not simply a distorted rectangle, but wraps around and contacts itself in multiple ways.

Painters can deal with this problem in various ways. For example, they can 1) generally ignore the issue, treating each side of a scupture as an independent canvas; 2) use an abstract design not depicting any sort of scene, which therefore doesn’t really have matching issues; or 3) work with the novel situation in a synergistic way. I think the image above, by Native American artist DG House, is one of the best examples of approach #3. The depicted animals, fairly flat but with slight indications of volume and major features, seem to nestle well within the protective bison shape where they are inscribed. Though there is some indication of landscape with horizon, it is quite subdued and has no problem existing on both sides (see below for the verso). In fairness, her style adapts well; this is not so different in general look from many of her paintings.

Have you seen other examples of this sort of project? If you had to put a 2-D image on a 3-D object, what would you choose to do?