Magia Naturalis

by Pete Cullen

June 1 - July 18, 2019

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The title of this show, 'Magia Naturalis' or Natural Magic in English, is taken from a book published in Naples in 1558 by the scholar Giambattista della Porta. Magia Naturalis was an encyclopedia of early science that contains what is probably the first written description of a camera obscura, the great-great-grand parent of the small digital camera in your phone. The camera obscura is a simple device that may have been known to Neolithic people and the Ancient Greeks. For years, scholars and artists have speculated that early modern painters such as Vermeer and Caravaggio used it to create paintings in a manner similar to the way some contemporary photorealist painters use digital projectors. Inside a darkened room, a small hole can create a projection of the exterior, essentially a living photograph moving in real time. Baltimore artist Pete Cullen has created such a device in his studio and used to make paintings as a way to test art historians’ theories through a form of experimental archaeology. Using the device to make art also allows for insights into abstract psychological concepts such as projection, flattening, and the gaze. The camera obscura becomes a physical metaphor for the ego and its mediation of perception.



Pete Cullen was born in Washington, DC and is a graduate of the Mt. Royal School of Art at MICA. He was a Baker Artist Awards Finalist in 2016. Cullen is a Baltimore-based artist who maintains a painting-centered studio practice. Fascinated by ideas about the camera obscura presented in David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge and the film Tim’s Vermeer, Cullen has developed an optics-based painting practice. Drawing on concepts from the field of experimental archaeology, Cullen makes paintings with a camera obscura of his own design and build using only natural light.


Gallery Hours: Saturdays 1-5PM

Closing Reception: Thursday, July 18 7-9PM