Wait, That’s a Painting? Photorealism Up Close
George Bernard Shaw once said, “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul. And you use glasses to see that art.” Okay, we added that last sentence, but you get the idea.
Visual art is how we communicate the universality of the human experience. It can evoke emotion, it can foster empathy, and it can even make you laugh.
Of course, there exist myriad genres and types of art, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to explore Photorealism.
What is Photorealism?
In layman’s terms, Photorealistic art is created by studying a photograph and attempting to depict it as accurately as possible through painting, drawing, or any other form of graphic media. The end result would leave you wondering, “Wait, is that a painting or a photo?”
Depending on the artist, however, some pieces may not be based on a photo at all and can depict abstract scenes that appear to be photographs. No matter the specific technique or style of the piece, photorealistic artwork takes some serious skill and is seriously cool to look at.
The Beginnings of the Art Form
Photorealism arose on the heels of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, which focused on expressing emotion through seemingly spontaneous brush strokes (think Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko).
The art movements of Pop Art and Minimalism also preceded Photorealism and while these trends have a lot in common with Photorealism, it’s not necessarily inspired by them.
Instead, Photorealistic artists were separately working on paintings without knowing they had company. And although painters like Audrey Flack and Richard Estes had been painting art based on photography since the early 1960s, it wasn’t given a name until 1969 by art dealer Louis K. Meisel.
The movement went largely unnoticed until 1972, when an exhibit of Photorealism was featured in the somewhat controversial Documenta 5 art show in Germany.
Famous artists from the genre include Chuck Close, Don Eddy, Ralph Goings, Robert Bechtle, Denis Peterson, Malcolm Morley, Richard Estes, and Audrey Flack.
According to Meisel, the Photorealist “uses the camera and photograph to gather information.”
While some artists simply use the photo for inspiration, others use a grid system and project the photo onto a canvas to then systematically copy the image.
Chuck Close, for example, would employ this gridding technique to create larger-than-life portraits that fully demonstrate the skill needed to execute on that level.
With advances in photography, those artists who still paint in the style of Photorealism have a leg up from their counterparts in the ‘60s and ‘70s. About this trend, Meisel notes:
“While the originators legitimized the use of the camera and the photograph once and for all, the newest generation has now taken it to the point where the most advanced means are employed to assist the artist in the gathering information and transferring it from reality to the representation of reality on canvas.“
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