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Photorealism – Technical Mastery and Effortless Style

Mark by Chuck Close

Photorealism is a style of art that attempts to create images that resemble photographs as closely as possible. By definition, its artworks must involve working from photographs, and the success of a photorealistic artwork is often measured through the talent and ability of the Artist to achieve this photographic effect. Extraordinary technical skill and a fine eye are needed, as well as patience and discipline, as a single image can often take hundreds of hours to produce.

Great practitioners of this style craft artworks that often take repeated views to determine whether they have been captured by a camera, or formed by the Artist’s hand. Often, the photograph that acts as the starting image for a photorealistic artwork will be transferred systematically onto the canvas by using a grid or a projector, and this change in scale can create unforgettable visual results.

Cheetos Hulk by Doug Bloodworth

Take the talented work of Doug Bloodworth for example; he assembles monopoly boards, Starbucks cups, comics, cakes, guns and other paraphernalia into closely shot images before painting them in fascinating artworks. His level of attention to detail and skill is phenomenal. Each shiny surface, different texture and subtle hue of light and colour are expertly rendered to look as faithful as possible to the original photograph. His work has to be seen in the flesh to be believed, and to fully appreciate the captivating likeness to real life that he creates.

Tin Robot by Michael Fitts

Michael Fitts is another great Photorealist, with an abundant talent for replicating simple objects in a stylistic, stripped down fashion. His simple compositions place objects such as shoes, popcorn, skulls and clothes pegs on grungy, worn out metal and wood backgrounds. The Artist’s paintings capture the distinctive qualities of each object, lending them a vintage, Americana feel and focusing attention onto the things that surround us in everyday life. He uses exceptionally fine brushstrokes in order to achieve a smooth, photographic effect. This erases as much evidence as possible of the work of his hand and the craft element within each artwork.

Many of the famous and highly talented Dutch painters such as Johannes Vermeer used the same technique. In the 1600s detail and a realistic, lifelike effect was in high demand. These Artists often used numerous layers of carefully thinned oil paint to avoid any traces of brush strokes and build up rich and vivid colours in their work. Painting still life images with simplistic, subtly lit backgrounds, their candles, fruits, bones, quills and other objects were incredibly lifelike. Photorealism is a movement that is bound up in the technology and development of the camera, but its principles of focusing on realism and visual likeness stretch back much further throughout the history of Art.

Johannes Vermeer: Girl with the Red Hat
photo credit: Johannes Vermeer: Girl with the Red Hat via photopin (license)

Painting has always had an intriguing relationship with photography, but photorealism warmly embraced the technology and uses it to great effect. During the early stages, as the technology of the camera developed, it shook the very foundations and principles on which painting had been built. Traditionally as an art form, painting had offered pictures of the scenes, people and worlds around us, but a photograph was suddenly able to do the same thing in a fraction of a second. Painting was forced to reassess its own purpose, along with the styles and methods that it used to achieve these goals.

Chuck Close, an influential American Artist, exemplifies this creative and symbiotic relationship between photography and painting. His Photorealistic portraits are often huge, abstract from close up but photographic from afar. He suffers from Prosopagnosia, a condition that makes it difficult for him to identify faces, and he claimed that painting portraits helped him overcome this hindrance. He divides his photographs into grids before projecting the structure onto the large canvases. Each square is then transferred using small circles and marks of different colours (think pixels composing a larger photograph) to form the overall image. His method is different from most other photorealists. He uses hundreds of tiny abstract squares to create powerful portrait paintings that have an uncanny resemblance to the photographs of each of his sitters. In many ways, his technique cleverly mirrors the very way that a digital photograph is built.

It wasn’t just in the US where photorealism was popular. In Europe artists such as Mike Gorman and Eric Scott were producing some exceptional work which attracted a wider audience after being displayed in the Superhumanism show at Arnold Katzen Gallery in New York in 1982. The show came about after a meeting between Nicholas Treadwell and Arnold Katzen at Basel Art Fair in 1981. Superhumanism garnered a lot of interest after a successful marketing campaign, and proved to be an important launch for many of the featured artists into the US market.

Photorealism is inextricably tied with the rise of the camera, but it has roots in Pop Art. Especially in America in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it stood in opposition to the rise of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Its technical, deliberate and tightly controlled style was a stark contrast to the huge expressive splashes, drips, rectangles and lavish marks of colour that made up the arsenal of painting techniques of the former. The stripped down visuals and ideas of the Minimalists were on a completely different end of the spectrum to the fine attention to detail and lifelike paintings that the Photorealists created.

Bloodworth, Fitts and Close are exceedingly talented and creative Artists. The paintings they all produce are richly detailed, technically brilliant and visually stunning. Quality Photorealism always offers captivating artworks that command attention and never fail to impress.


Header photo credit: DSC_5236 via photopin (license)

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