You might do a double take as you get to the corner of Prince and Greene Streets when you see Richard Haas’ mural. 112 Prince has a traditional cast iron facade on the front and a replica of the facade along the side of the building. Known for his trompe l’oeil—French for “deceives the eye”—Haas painted this mural in 1975, blending the two real windows into the design and adding details like shadows, air conditioners, and even a sleeping cat.
Haas had wanted to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Frank Lloyd Wright, to become an architect, but decided in college to study art instead. When he moved from the midwest to New York in 1968, he rented a loft on the Bowery and started drawing buildings and supported himself by commuting weekly to Vermont for a teaching job. In the 1970s, nonprofit City Walls was commissioning murals by abstract artists, and Haas submitted his idea for a realistic image. He chose this wall, originally constructed in 1889, which had boasted painted advertisements in the past.
Haas’ works have been commissioned all over the United States. There are many here in New York City, including the power substation at the Seaport, which is painted to show a cutaway of the Brooklyn Bridge. In Chicago, he painted a residential building that has occasionally fooled people with its realism when they request an apartment with a bay window, only to discover the windows are a trick of the eye.
Some of Haas’ pieces have deteriorated or been destroyed by weather, vandalism, or buildings being razed. And unfortunately the demand for wall murals has practically vanished. Advertisements have reconquered the city, bigger and brighter and more lucrative. Trickery is still at play but of a different kind. There is something wonderful, however, about fooling the eye, pointing out the less obvious and making us consider our perceptual limitations.