Photorealism is a term coined regarding the artists whose work depends heavily on photographs that they project onto canvases. The art of Photorealism (also known as Superrealism or Hyperrealism) allows images to be replicated with accuracy and precision. The Photorealistic movement is a counterpart of Conceptual art, Pop art, and Minimalism, which expressed a strong interest in realism in art over that of idealism and abstraction and ultimately came about within the same period and context. Although photorealists successfully attracted a huge audience, art historians often fail to regard it as a significant avant-garde style.

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©Sergey Piskunov – mymodernmet.com
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John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle, oil on canvas_©John Baeder (2007) – en.wikipedia.org

Origins of the Movement

Photorealism was a full-fledged art movement established by an art dealer Louis K. Meisel in the United States in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The movement evolved from Pop art, in opposition to Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Airbrush, a tool that was originally made to retouch photographs, was often used to further capture the exactness of the art. Photorealists, like pop artists, aimed to diminish the hierarchies of appropriate subject matter by picking familiar everyday commercial objects like signages, shops, and goods. They drew inspiration from commercial imagery and advertising. It was a reactionary movement that stemmed from the increasing and overwhelming existence of photographic media that was considered a threat to the value of imagery in art in the mid-20th century. The movement was not only popular among painters but also among several sculptors who tried to simulate reality by casting from live models.

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“Two Women” by artist Ron Mueck at the Brooklyn Museum_©Timothy A (2007) – www.theatlantic.com

Development of the Movement

The paintings by Chuck Close, Richard Estes, and the realistic sculptures by John De Andrea, Carole Feuerman, and Duane Hanson brought prominence to Superrealism in the United States. The existence of photorealistic paintings highly relies on photographs. With the rising popularity of photography in the nineteenth century, various changes sprung up in the art industry. Photography was a popular career and scenic art and portraits were deemed inferior to photographs. The documentation of artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century using photography as an aid and a source material, abundantly found. The Photorealism movement was highly influenced by pop art and was a reaction against abstract expressionism. Highly illusionistic images were created by painters that directly reproduced visuals that did not refer to nature. An attempt to reproduce exact images that were captured by cameras was made by several artists at the time. Although the detached and impersonal characteristics of photorealism had an affinity with modernism and pop art, many perceived photorealism as a revival of illusionism and a challenge to minimalism. Photorealism was considered an attack on the popularity of modern abstract paintings.

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Photo-realists aimed to break down the hierarchies of appropriate subjects matter by incorporating everyday scenes of commercial life_©Richard Estes (1974) – www.widewalls.ch

Representation Over Abstraction

Photographs or digital computer images are highly used by photorealist painters, with the application of either grid or traditional techniques, or by projecting slide imagery on canvases. The exact amount of sharpness of detail is recreated throughout the painting. However, subjects vary and are usually prosaic devoid of any special interest, sometimes even selected purely for its technical difficulty. Photorealist artists also specialize in specific subjects- scenes, portraits, or human figures. Irrespective of the subject, the focus of the artist lies in achieving precision and detail, and the compelling impact on the viewer.

Despite being a close counterpart of pop art, whose conventional and easily recognizable imagery it shares, photorealism is miles apart from the whimsical humor pop art portrays. The style is rather impersonal, its indiscriminate and meticulous detail, producing a sense of unreality. While pop art ridicules and highlights the absurdity of the consumer society that relies upon media imagery, superrealism celebrates the integrity and value of an image and is often used in the favor of media imagery.

Famous Photorealist Artists

Chuck Close

Chuck Close is famously known for his massive-hyper realistic close-up portraits of himself and others. He was also a visual artist and photographer. He mostly created his paintings with the help of photo portraits that used a very large format camera.

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Photorealist painter Chuck Close_©Getty Images – www.sportskeeda.com

Richard Estes

Paintings of street views with elaborate glass reflections were the specialty of the American artist. His paintings mostly consisted of clean, reflective, inanimate cities and geometric landscapes. He pioneered the Photorealist movement and was considered the foremost practitioner of the international group of photorealists.

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Richard Estes, 1978__©Meisel Gallery – www.meiselgallery.com

Audrey Flack

Audrey L. Flack Pioneered the art genre of photorealism. She was also a photographer, painter and sculptor. Flack was famously known for bringing in a socio-political edge to the photorealist movement. She was the first artist to develop and use the airbrushing technique, instead of a photograph as a reference.

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Audrey Flack in front of her painting Wheel of Fortune_©Audrey Flack – jwa.org
Duane Hanson with his sculpture ©SerpentineUK – www.instagram.com/p/6e6GIYodqH/?taken-by=serpentineuk&epik=dj0yJnU9SWplMkNCNXlINjNFUWVZTFY5djFmVmNneUdnTGVmMEUmcD0wJm49T2ZUcjFoY1YxQ3Fhd2dzZ3Q0d0t5dyZ0PUFBQUFBR0hYTVpj

Duane Hanson

An American artist and sculptor, Duane Hanson spent most of his career in South Florida. He was known for his realistic full-sized sculptures of people. He worked with various materials such as bronze, polyester resin, Bondo, and fiberglass to create casts based on human models.

Conclusion

The growth of technology ever since the invention of photography has been a boon to hyperrealism. The use of graphic software in recent years to manipulate digital imagery has largely contributed to the enlargement and analysis of color, texture, and pictorial content. Maintaining the same scene or the state of the subject for lengths of time (days, if not weeks) is crucial in superrealism. As a result of this movement, several contemporary artists have successfully achieved a significant degree of detail that surpasses any piece of art produced by famous Renaissance artists.

Hyperrealism in sculptures, however, has no relation to photographs. Sculptures are three-dimensional and cannot be replicated by two-dimensional visuals, due to which, sculptors today face the same problems that were faced by the renaissance artists. The works of famous photorealistic artists can be seen in numerous museums and expos around the world, the most notable one being the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

References:

Visual arts cork. Photorealism Characteristics, History of Superrealism Painting. [online]. Available at: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/photorealism.html [Accessed date: 01 Jan 2022].

Tate.org. Photorealism [online]. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/photorealism 

[Accessed date: 01 Jan 2022].

Wainwright, L. S. (2019). Photo-realism. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/art/Photo-realism

The Art story (2022). Photorealism Movement Overview and Analysis. [online]. (Last updated 05 Dec 2014). Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/movement/photorealism/ [Accessed 02 Jan 2022].

Invaluable (2019). Photorealism and Its Impact on Contemporary Art [online]. (Last updated 27 Mar 2014). Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/movement/photorealism/ [Accessed 02 Jan 2022].

Britannica, he Editors of Encyclopedia.  (2021). Chuck Close [online]. (Last updated 19 Aug 2014). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Chuck-Close [Accessed 02 Jan 2022].

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