Chan Canasta (1920-1999) is one of my heroes in magic. In front of live audiences he took major risks that are breathtaking to behold. Sometimes a trick wouldn’t work and his entire presentation failed. Unlike a traditional magician, Chan Canasta was fine with that. Failure was an acceptable outcome. But when he succeeded, ah! The outcome was gloriously impossible. This was part of the public’s fascination toward Chan’s brand of psychological illusion – they were keenly aware that his experiments could fail, so they believed he was real. His approach elicited empathy, and audiences earnestly wanted him to succeed.
Later in life, he left the world of public performance and focused on another lifelong passion – painting. As artists evolve, they often find new outlets to express themselves. Chan put down the deck of cards and picked up a paintbrush to stimulate audiences in a fresh way. His paintings presented the world in a dreamlike fashion, challenging viewers to discern the difference between reality and illusion.
Today Chan Canasta paintings are seldom seen – most are held in private collections spread across the globe. I encountered my first Chan Canasta painting in 2004 hanging on the wall of Derren Brown’s flat in London. It made an impact on me because I knew that the canvas behind the plate glass had been personally touched by our mutual hero. Although Chan died in 1999 and I had never met him in person, I felt his presence while standing in the same room as his painting.
Years later, I chanced across an eBay auction containing twenty Chan Canasta paintings. At the time I wasn’t in the market to purchase art, but I felt a sudden inspiration to create screenshots of each painting. I saved those digital files and later posted them in a blog post on my website, dated April 13, 2010. The dealer selling these paintings was located in Brussels, Belgium, and I instructed my blog visitors to contact this dealer via eBay if they wished to purchase an original Canasta.
After a week of being listed on eBay, something magical yet disturbing happened. Not only did the auction listings end, but the Belgian art dealer himself had vanished. There was no way to track him down on eBay, since he had used an untraceable screen name that didn’t correspond to any known galleries.
I continued to host the twenty images on my blog. Five years passed.
On January 9, 2015, I received an email from a lady named Renata Kadrnka who explained that she was Chan Canasta’s widow. The day she wrote would have been Chan’s 95th birthday and she was reminiscing about life with her late husband. Renata had searched the Internet for articles about Chan, and stumbled across my blog post.
Back in 2002, in London, England, I met an artist named Van Howell. I was so impressed with his distinctive style of illustration that I commissioned him to create a poster for my show.
The cast of characters that he included in the poster is impressive. I’ve received emails from people who own the poster, requesting information about each character. Fortunately Van provided me with a detailed schematic list that describes his inspirations. He went on a treasure hunt through the National Gallery in London to find the perfect cast. Click the links below to see many of the truly gorgeous originals.
A piano with a two-foot cutaway hole stood alone on the mezzanine of MOMA, New York’s Museum of Modern Art. I asked a security guard what the piano was for — he replied, “For performances. Come back later.” My family and I wandered off to enjoy other exhibits, and later rushed back to the mezzanine when we saw a large crowd surrounding the piano.
There was a person standing INSIDE the piano. Right inside the hole.
She was playing the piano and walking around the open floor, rolling the instrument in wide arcs. Her body was bent forward at the waist, at a full ninety degree angle, and her hands were flying up and down at a breakneck pace. […]
Nostalgic blog post! Growing up in Westchester County, I joined the Boy Scouts (Troop 174) and have happy boyhood memories of paging through the Boy Scout Handbook. Norman Rockwell’s scouting images were scattered throughout the handbook, and I fell in love with his painting style. To my knowledge, Norman Rockwell painted two images that included […]
This art exhibition by Austrian designer Stefan Sagmeister is very clever and inspirational. The artist mounted 7200 bananas onto the wall, each at various levels of ripeness. It’s a Lego-like building environment, and the greenest bananas contrasted with the yellowest ones enough to spell out words: “SELF CONFIDENCE PRODUCES FINE RESULTS”
I have fond memories of Sunday mornings as a boy, searching the Arts page of the NY Times for the “Nina’s” hidden in Al Hirschfeld’s illustrations. It was a clever game of hide-and-go-seek, since Hirschfeld hid his daughter’s name so well, and in such whimsically obscure spots – in the folds of a coat sleeve, […]