See the world’s most iconic paintings with the people erased

What is Grant Wood’s American Gothic without its stoic couple, or Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks without its lonely diner?

I’m not sure why I’m so attracted to some of the works of New York-based artist Yulia Pidlubnyak, who uses computer graphics to remove the people from iconic paintings by Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, and other legendary artists.


Perhaps it’s because the original paintings are so iconic that the seamless absence of their protagonists makes Pidlubnyak’s alterations instantly fascinating. It’s as if my brain were trying to automatically fill in the blanks. It’s a phenomenon also known as “closure,” the Gestalt psychological principle in which the brain tries to complete a shape that is incomplete.

American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930 (left), Pidlubnyak’s rendering (right). [Images: courtesy Yulia Pidlubnyak]

Pidlubnyak, who currently works as a CGI artist at an architectural firm, says that her series, titled Re-ymagined, “is an art project that digitally renders the reality of the artists’ environment before they started to draw.” She reconstructs these spaces in three dimensions using Autodesk 3ds Max, building the geometry, shaders, textures, and lighting to match the original images.

[Image: courtesy Yulia Pidlubnyak]
The series started about a year ago, as Pidlubnyak was looking through different photographs to understand lighting techniques to make renderings look realistic. “I started to think about paintings, studying how artists applied shadows and light to create spaces,” she says via email. After an initial, quick experiment with Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace, she looked for well-known artworks with compelling backgrounds, interesting lighting, and a unique style.

That’s how she arrived at the vivid work of Hopper, Wood, and Wyeth. Her recreations of these artists’ works are the most interesting of the series, with their architecturally strong framing and geometric linework. I hope she’ll tackle Diego Velázquez with his complex perspectives next–or perhaps something surreal, like Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of the Earthly Delights.


About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.