By H. Layla Rafaoui
Background: Defining the Terminology and the Shift of Photorealism to Hyperrealism
Photorealism began in the late 1960s in the United States; it was born when a cluster of artists began using photography as a source to paint commonplace scenes and objects with astonishing realism. The term Photorealism was coined by Louis K. Meisel in 1969, and it appeared in print for the first time in 1970 in a Whitney Museum catalogue for the exhibition “Twenty-two Realists.” Two years later Louis K. Meisel provided a five-part definition for what precisely classifies as Photorealism at the request of Stuart M. Speiser, who had gathered a large collectionof Photo-realistic paintings, which ultimately grew into a traveling show titled “Photo-Realism 1973: The Stuart M. Speiser Collection” (Schiller). The clauses of Meisel’s definition were documented as follows:
1. The Photo-Realist uses the camera and photograph to gather information.
2. The Photo-Realist uses a mechanical or semi-mechanical means to transfer the information to the canvas.
3. The Photo-Realist must have the technical ability to make the finished work appear photographic.
4. The artist must have exhibited work as a Photo-Realist by 1972 to be considered one of the central Photo-Realists.
5. The artist must have devoted at least five years to the development and exhibition of Photo-Realist work.
Inspiring and Opposing Art Forms:
The Photorealist movement evolved from Pop Art and was meant to counter both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. With inspiration from Pop Art, the art style inherited “a passion for the icons of consumer society, the metallic surfaces of the glass and mirrors of shop windows, and the deformed images they reflected, dazzling cars and motorbikes, neon signs, the bright colors of fast-food restaurants, Art Deco architecture and all kinds of kitsch iconography” (Hyperrealism). However, while the Pop Artists were largely attempting to point out the absurdity of much of the content (i.e. the imagery and symbols), the Photo-Realists were primarily trying to recover and promote the socially held value of an image. Photorealistic artists strive to alter elements of everyday life, trite scenes, and consumer goods into artistic motifs.
By the time the Photo-Realists started crafting their work, the snapshot had become the dominant means for replicating reality and abstraction was at the center of the art world. Through the first half of the 1900s, realism had persisted as a surviving art movement, and even resurfaced in the 1930s, but, by the 1950s, modernist critics and the popularity of Abstract Expressionism had all but eradicated realism as a serious art form. Although Photo-Realists had some shared characteristics with American realists, they did their best to separate themselves from traditional realists just as they did with Abstract Expressionists.
Like Pop Art and Minimalism, Photorealism sought to have a detached and impersonal vibe from the artists’ work because of the systematic techniques they used. Yet, many thought, Photorealism’s effort to revitalize illusionism—with their detail-oriented tactics—was meant as a challenge to the work of Minimalists. Correspondingly, many believed, the Photo-realistic movement was meant as a stab against the celebrated gains of Abstractionism.
Photorealism’s Original Artists
The initial generation of American Photo-Realists contained such painters as John Baeder, John Kacere, Howard Kanovitz, Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Charles Bell, Audrey Flack, Don Eddy, Robert Bechtle, and Tom Blackwell. They often worked independently of one another and with extensively diverse starting points.
Historic Photo-Realist Artists:
John Baeder was primarily known for his detailed paintings of American roadside diners and restaurants
The movement reached international recognition when it participated in the Kassel Documenta of 1972. Then, in 1973, a Belgian art dealer, Isy Brachot, coined the French term Hyperréalisme as the title of an exhibition that took place at his gallery in Brussels. The exhibition was predominantly American Photorealists such as Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Don Eddy, Robert Bechtle, and Richard McLean; however, it also encompassed some influential European artists such as Gnoli, Richter, Klapheck, and Delcol. Photorealism, then, developed into what widely became acknowledged as the Hyperrealist movement. Photorealism and hyperrealism are also occasionally referred to as Super Realism, New Realism, and/ or Sharp-Focus Realism.
More than forty years after hyperrealism originated, it has managed to maintain its place as a visible and flourishing art form. Many of the movement’s pioneers are still active and working alongside new artists who also paint using a photorealist technique. Artistic resources and themes have progressed and changed over time, but Hyperrealistic paintings, with their eye-capturing level of definition, accuracy, and detail, continue to captivate their audience.
Art in the Age of Technology:
Both Pop Art and Photorealism were reactions to the constantly-growing abundance of photographic media. The invention of photography, in the nineteenth century, shifted the Westerners’ cultural values on two-dimensional, historic art forms and the public’s general understanding of prior media. When Photorealism began to gain momentum in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and permitted artists to use photographs to aid their work, it was countered with severe criticism, despite the fact that visual aids had been used by artists since the fifteenth century. Within the art movements of the 1800s and 1900s, it is documented that artists used photographs to aid in their work, but heavily denied using them because they feared that their work would be perceived by critics and the general public as imitations. Artists who painted portraits and scenes were thought to produce inferior work in comparison to the camera and many of them ultimately changed to careers in photography. By mid-20th century in the west, photography had become such an enormous phenomenon that it threatened to diminish the value of imagery in prior art forms.
However, the invention of the photograph also led to a period of artistic experimentation. Hyper-realistic artists begin their artistic process with a camera in an attempt to capture seemingly inconsequential subjects that are found in the world around us, and then—with painstaking detail—they create an illusion of photography on canvas. Ironically, the method is completely contradictory to the immediacy of the snapshot itself. When creating a hyper-realistic painting, the artist systematically transfers their photograph onto the canvas, which is typically done either through projection or a traditional grid system. The final painting often looks identical to the photograph, and is merely larger. These techniques result in a precise and extremely realistic painting.
Reaching a Wider Audience:
Hyperrealism touches a wider audience than that of abstract art. Abstract art was once about reaching the people as it rebelled from prior more “trained” and “refined” styles, while integrating political dilemmas and analyzing one’s own culture; however, with time, it has managed to simply join the many other art forms through-out history that were and are limited to the elites and those in the academic sphere. Unlike Abstractionism, Hyperrealism doesn’t need to be “explained” to the viewer, considering the content can be found in the physical world that the viewer lives in.
Art movements are vital in defining periods of human history; they give the framework to the cultural realities of the time and allow us to outline social shifts. The long-lasting relevance of Hyperrealism allows us to presume—as it contains some of our societal values—that in our technologically-centered existence we value precision and, also, that more individuals within our society are impressed by and interested in that precision than by opposing nonconcrete, intellectual art pieces.
Contemporary Hyperrealist Artists:
Diego Fazio – Charcoal pencil
Ben Weiner – Paintings of Paint