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Photorealism

Photorealism Collage
Started: Early 1960s
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Sometimes I really want to paint somebody and I don't get a photograph that I want to work from.
Chuck Close Signature

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

Key Artists

Overview of Photorealism

Chuck Close, self-portrait (2016). Ceramic tile at the 86th's Street Subway Station in New York City

"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

Chuck Close: Self-Portrait (1967-68)

Self-Portrait (1967-68)

Artist: Chuck Close

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.

Ralph Goings: McDonalds Pickup (1970)

McDonalds Pickup (1970)

Artist: Ralph Goings

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.

Richard Estes: Supreme Hardware Store (1974)

Supreme Hardware Store (1974)

Artist: Richard Estes

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.

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Photorealism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Dec 2014. Updated and modified regularly
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