Summary of Photorealism
The name Photorealism (also known as Hyperrealism or Superrealism) was coined in reference to those artists whose work depended heavily on photographs, which they often projected onto canvas allowing images to be replicated with precision and accuracy. The exactness was often aided further by the use of an airbrush, which was originally designed to retouch photographs. The movement came about within the same period and context as Conceptual art, Pop art, and Minimalism and expressed a strong interest in realism in art, over that of idealism and abstraction. Among several male practitioners of Photorealism there is an interest in themes of machinery and objects of industry such as trucks, motorcycles, cars, and even gumball machines, whereas Audrey Flack, the sole female practitioner, infuses her works with greater emotionality and the transience of life. Ultimately, the Photorealists were successful in attracting a wide audience, but they are often overlooked by art historians as an important avant garde style.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- To a degree not previously accomplished, Photorealism complicates the notion of realism by successfully mixing together that which is real with that which is unreal. While the image on the canvas is recognizable and carefully delineated to suggest that it is accurate, the artist often based their work upon photographs rather than direct observation. Therefore, their canvases remain distanced from reality factually and metaphorically.
- Many Photorealists adamantly insist that their works, which are laden with such mass and consumer culture icons as trucks, fast food restaurants, and mechanical toys, are not communicative of social criticism or commentary. However, it is hard to deny that these works are recognizably American. At times, the actual work rather than the artist's words is our most useful guide. In this manner, there is the contrast between the reality and primacy of the word or text, over the visual within our society.
- Since the advent of photography in the early-19th-century artists have used the camera as a tool in picture making; however, artists would never reveal in paint their dependency on photographs as to do so was seen as "cheating". In contrast, Photorealists acknowledge the modern world's mass production and proliferation of photographs, and they do not deny their dependence on photographs. In fact, several artists attempt to replicate the effects of photography (getting away from the natural vision of our eyes) such as blurriness or multiple-viewpoints, because they favor the aesthetic and look. Therefore, while the resulting image is realistic, it is simultaneously one-stage away from reality by its dependence on the reproduced image. These works question traditional artistic methods, as well as the differences between reality and artificiality.
- The representation of light, as well as the interaction of light and color together has concerned artists throughout the ages. By using slide machines to project images onto bare canvas Photorealism for the first time unites color and light together as one element. The capturing of light is most especially evident in the highly reflective surfaces of steel and chrome.
- Photorealists, along with some practitioners of Pop art, reintroduced the importance of process and deliberate planning over that of improvisation and automatism, into the making of art, draftsmanship, and exacting brushwork. In other words, the traditional techniques of academic art are again of great significance, and painstaking craftsmanship is prized after decades of the spontaneous, accidental, and improvisational.
Overview of Photorealism
"I am as interested in the artificial as I am in the real," Chuck Close said. His photographic approach to painting portraits launched Photorealism.
Important Art and Artists of Photorealism
A large, unshaven man with unkempt hair smoking a cigarette constitutes this work's subject matter, which is Close's self-portrait. Through the use of black and white, Close emphasizes his slovenly appearance and highlights the labor that goes into making art, as well as the unglamorous nature of being an artist. In this manner, he turns the long tradition of artists' self-portraiture on its head.
With his exacting work method, Close first puts down a light pencil matrix for scaling up a photograph and then sketches in the image with an airbrush; he finishes the work by hand painting in the many details. This enables him to work on a large, expressive scale while also maintain the sense of verisimilitude. Close introduced the human element into Photorealism through his numerous, enlarged portraits.
The painter turned to creating portraits, in part, to refute critic Clement Greenberg's claim that it was impossible for an "advanced" artist to paint portraiture. Because Close methodically paints in a grid his work has drawn comparison to such Minimalists as Agnes Martin and Sol Lewitt. He has established a reputation independent of Photorealism and is considered one of contemporary art's leading figures and portraitists.
Here, the artist Ralph Goings has selected a rather pedestrian view as his subject - a jeep, McDonald's, and the American flag. Goings paints these icons of the American highways with great attention to detail, aided in large part by using photographs. The artist has chosen to remove such extraneous details as people and detritus that would detract from the canvas's subject matter. In this manner, Goings along with other Photorealists has diversified the traditional artistic genres maintained since the 17th century. He paints such banal subjects with great care so that together with the artist we consider what in fact comprises American culture. In lieu of the great cathedrals of Europe with their vaulted arches, America - he seems to suggest - has these "golden" arches to herald its cultural heritage.
In this painting, we view a run-down, cluttered city filled with reflective signs and storefronts, awash with bold signage and lettering. This unremarkable setting, however, is painted with the utmost care and precision, a testament to Richard Estes' craftsmanship. Estes has stated the pragmatic reason he bases his paintings on photographs: "It's silly to work from drawings when I can do better with photographs." Painted in 1974, the height of Photorealism, works such as this by Estes were acclaimed for their urban aesthetic that reflected New York City as the city was on the threshold of bankruptcy. The artist's work method differs from that of other Photorealists in that he neither uses a grid system, nor a projector to transfer his images onto the canvas. With his great attention to detail and realism, Richard Estes helped to bring the academic tradition of easel painting back into vogue, aspiring to reflect a sense of beauty found in past artistic periods, such as the Flemish art of Jan Van Eyck. Besides his urban subject matter, Estes technical prowess is one of his main contributions to Photorealism.
Useful Resources on Photorealism
- Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic PaintingOur PickBy Linda Chase, Nina Knoll
- Photorealism At the MillenniumOur PickBy Louis K. Meisel, Linda Chase
- Hyper Real: The Passion of the Real in Painting and PhotographyBy Brigitte Franzen, Susanne Neuburger
- PhotorealismBy Louis K. Meisel
- Robert Bechtle: A RetrospectiveOur PickBy Janet Bishop, Michael Auping, Jonathan Weinberg, Charles Ray
- Photorealism in the Digital AgeBy Louis K. Meisel, Elizabeth Katherine May Harris
- Chuck Close: Face BookOur PickBy Chuck Close
- Charles Bell: The Complete Works, 1970-1990By Henry Geldzahler
- Don Eddy: The Art of ParadoxBy Donald Kuspit
- Richard EstesBy John Wilmerding
- Exactitude: Hyperrealist Art TodayOur PickBy John Russell Taylor, Maggie Bollaert
- In the Republic of RealismOur PickBy Mark Gisbourne for Deutsche Bank Art works
- Chuck Close's Photo Maquettes Reveal Origins of Photorealistic PaintingsOur PickHuffington Post / April 3, 2013
- Photorealism Champion Louis Meisel on Bringing His Preeminent Collection to New JerseyOur PickBlouin ARTINFO / September 20, 2011
- Huge Photorealism Exhibition Opens at Mana ContemporaryBy Brendan Carroll / Jersey City Independent / September 13, 2011
- "Picturing America: Deutsche Guggenheim shows Photorealism in the 1970s" at Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, March 7 - May 10, 2009ArtRepublic
- Photorealism: Is That All There Is?Our PickBy Benjamin Genocchio / The New York Times / January 30, 2005
- They Were Really Nice Guys: Louis K. Meisel Talks to David Lubin about Photorealism's BeginningsOur PickDeutsche Bank Art works