PHOTOREALISM: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic painting

1_Baeder30 November – 30 March 2014
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Think you’re gazing at a photograph? No, that’s actually a painting! Take a look at everyday life from a new perspective because the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery are showcasing Europe’s first large scale retrospective dedicated to Photorealism. 

Developed by US artists during the 1960s, Photorealism is more than a reproduction of mundane scenarios. This new type of painting was a counter to abstract expressionism, which as a movement was inspired by intangible emotion.  Like Pop Art, Photorealism derived its subject matter from consumer goods, transport and technology; in particular the prevalent use of photography in the media. Cars, stores, and signage were all common themes that were depicted on a substantially bigger scale in oil or acrylic. Minimalism was also a major influence, as both movements display a detached, impersonal view of the world.

The Photorealistic style could not exist without photography. A common technique was to project the image onto a canvas before painstakingly replicating it. Chuck Close took this one step further and created large scale and incredibly life-like portraits that were formed from a complicated grid system. As a final touch, artists often used an air brush to create a glossy photographic finish.

During the 1970’s Photorealism was introduced to Europe, and over the next two decades it would become international. European artists such as Anthony Brunelli and Bertrand Menial turned the focus towards the cityscape. Digital photography would inevitably revitalise the movement and influenced the third generation of Photorealists. Raphella Spence captures cities from above in a helicopter, and then records them pixel by pixel, capturing every tiny detail with razor sharp accuracy. Fellow contemporary Photorealist Peter Maier reconstructs images of cars using a specially made gun and automobile paint, inspired by his years as a vehicle designer. Applied in up to 25 layers, he forms highly polished dimensional works with a deceptively real appearance.

In a world where the photograph can capture anything better than the human hand, why is photorealism such an important movement? The development of photography altered the art world forever. It grew into such a wide spread phenomenon that it endangered the value of imagery in art. Realism helped to reclaim the use of imagery, stood up to the abstract expressionists and brought back dignity to truthful representation in painting.

Words: Sophie Lloyd

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