Rob Gonsalves

Phenomenon of Floating

A Peek Into Rob Gonsalves’ Whimsical World of Magic Realism

The fantasy genre is at the fundamental essence of escapism. From outlandish narrations of a dragon rider’s journey to wizards and witches attending university, fantasy combines tokens from reality and the magical elements of a world far, far away. 

Magic Realism was created in the 1920s when German and Italian painting styles married the depictions of reality and an otherworldly, mystical element. Across decades, the genre evolved into a crossover between realism and surrealism styles, imbued with a hint of fantasy. Realism is the representation of real-life “truthfully,” with no alterations. Magic Realism enhances this concept with details that speak to otherworldly creatures and concepts. 

Rob Gonsalves, a self-proclaimed Magic Realism artist, explored this form of escapism in his work. He illustrated mundane fragments of mortal life with optical illusions that evoked the fantastical. According to his website, Gonsalves aimed at creating “paintings that spoke to the joyful and wondrous imagination of children and to us adults who can still find that inner child willing to swing so high that our shoes touch the sky.” He attended Ryerson Technical University to learn architecture, where he also learned how to manipulate and alter perception and scales. This skill is at the core of Gonsalves’ painting techniques. He blended objects and nature in a manner that fooled the eye with hidden details and amorphous physical compositions, making his artwork feel like a childhood game of ISPY.

Like many artists, Gonsalves used art as a form of self-expression and a way to cope with personal battles. Though most of his artwork radiates adventure and magical, otherworldly visions, Gonsalves himself could never entirely escape reality; he battled with various mental illnesses, ultimately taking his life on June 14, 2017. His artwork and motive remain a portal of mystical escapism for his viewers. 

“Sun Set Sails” (2001)

“Sun Set Sails” (2001)
Rob Gonsalves, Sun Set Sails, 2001

Optical illusions are at the forefront of Magic Realism and Gonsalves’ catalog. Sun Set Sails is a prime example of how he slightly alters the main object and blends the background to create a not-immediately noticeable visualization. 

Puffy clouds and wavy mountains peek through the distant arches in the bridge. At first glance, the sight alone is beautiful. But as the arched bridge advances to the foreground of the painting, the clouds and mountain shadows no longer embody their original form. The clouds become wind-filled mainsails, and the mountains transform into the boats’ base. Gonsalves used the natural gradation of the clouds to outline the bridge. This technique speaks to his belief that there is magic in everyday life: clouds can be sails, and bridges can become the sky. 

“Firefly Constellation” (2003)

Rob Gonsalves, Firefly Constellation, 2003
Rob Gonsalves, Firefly Constellation, 2003

Firefly Constellation embodies Gonsalves’ goal to create art that speaks to child-like imagination and joyous wonders that exist in a mind not yet subjected to grown-up realities. Children, as whimsical creatures, invent their own. Stars, for example, look like a million little fireflies in the sky. A six-year-old is more likely to look at the sky and imagine it filled with lightning bugs, not giant balls of hot gas. This painting exemplifies Gonsalves’ beliefs in everyday magic.

Upon further examination, Firefly Constellation transforms from a simple scene into a magical, decidedly “Gonsalvesque” composition. The fireflies released into the sky blend in—a staple technique in Gonsalves’ work—with the stars in the sky, assuming their physical shape. He goes further, intertwining the trees with the clouds. The tall pine trees in the shadows melt into the blue night sky, the final tree becoming invisible and mimicking the surrounding cloud shapes. He naturally dissipates the clouds once the final tree becomes the sky, skillfully fooling the eye. 

“Water Dancing” (2011)

Rob Gonsalves, Water Dancing, 2011
Rob Gonsalves, Water Dancing, 2011

Water Dancing is one of his darker, moodier pieces. The night sky, the shadowy tones, the full moon, and the dancing women radiate a witchy and eerie mood. At the base of the hill lies a bright waterfall with numerous streams. As the water flows to the foreground of the painting, the streams begin to merge into long-limbed dancing women. The waves of the water are akin to a fabric’s natural folds. Gonsalves used this detail to transfigure the water into women. Their pale skin and abstract movements give this painting its “witching hour” vibe. 

Like Firefly Constellation, this painting also contains a detail that one might not see immediately, if at all. Behind the dancing women is a staircase the same color as the rocks on the hill. This small but significant detail speaks to Gonsalves’ brilliant ability to bury symbolic and ethereal architectural details into his paintings.

“Phenomenon of Floating” (2014)

Rob Gonsalves, Phenomenon of Floating, 2014
Rob Gonsalves, Phenomenon of Floating, 2014

Gonsalves is no stranger to playing with the infinite volume of outer space and its limitless multitudes. Phenomenon of Floating visualizes the out-of-body experience of floating. His mantra—that everyday life contains magic—shines through in this piece. The girl, floating serenely in the lake, is entranced with the calm expanse of her surroundings. Gonsalves ties this feeling with space by transitioning the dark tones of the lake with the jet-black vacuum. The sunset sky radiates yellow and orange hues as the girl stares into nature’s tranquility. As in “Sun Set Sails,” Gonsalves uses the clouds as the barrier and transition point to his optical illusion. The sunset tints the clouds a brownish-orange that resembles that of a continent on a globe. As the sky cuts off into the vastness, the clouds become a landmass visible from outer space. 

It is worth noting that Gonsalves, in the same composition, managed to showcase two discrete, faraway points in the universe. The girl floating in the water stares at the sky, which becomes space. In the same painting but with a different point of view, the girl floats in space, staring down at the Earth. By doing this, he defines and illustrates multiple ways in which someone can experience the phenomenon of floatation

“High Park Pickets” (n.d.)

Rob Gonsalves, High Park Pockets
Rob Gonsalves, High Park Pockets

Exploration at a young age is an integral part of fulfilling the youthful appetite for adventure. However, a child can only travel so far; they must make do with whatever realms are part of their domain. Playgrounds become kingdoms, cities, and battlefields. Backyards become tropical jungles. Gonsalves’ High Park Pickets embodies this stage of childhood worldbuilding.

Children balance on wooden beams and picket fences that—to their imaginations—are skyscrapers. Between each building, they span beams thousands of feet in the air. Here, Gonsalves constructs a simple transition, both stylistically and psychologically. The bland, gray fence slowly fades into large city buildings in the distance, with elaborate buildings in the foreground. This technique is Gonsalves’ signature touch. Aside from the scenery, he clearly portrays children’s unfettered imagination. In fence posts, children see a towering skyscraper. Their need for exploration within the boundaries of the backyard led them to their city-climbing destiny. 

Embracing Creativity and Child-like Imagination

As one grows into adulthood, the magic of everyday life slowly dissipates. Stars become giant gas balls, not fireflies; clouds are just clouds, not sailboats; and picket fences are just wood posts, not city skyscrapers. However, Rob Gonsalves’ collection of whimsical paintings is a reminder of childhood imagination and how creative thinking can transform adulthood’s frequent mundanity and dreariness.


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