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Photorealism

Started: Early 1960s

Photorealism Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Photorealism

The below artworks are the most important in Photorealism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Photorealism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Chuck Close: Self-Portrait (1967-68)
Artwork Images

Self-Portrait (1967-68)

Artist: Chuck Close

Artwork description & Analysis: A large, unshaven man with unkempt hair smoking a cigarette constitutes this work's subject matter, which is Close's self-portrait. Through the use of black and white, Close emphasizes his slovenly appearance and highlights the labor that goes into making art, as well as the unglamorous nature of being an artist. In this manner, he turns the long tradition of artists' self-portraiture on its head.

With his exacting work method, Close first puts down a light pencil matrix for scaling up a photograph and then sketches in the image with an airbrush; he finishes the work by hand painting in the many details. This enables him to work on a large, expressive scale while also maintain the sense of verisimilitude. Close introduced the human element into Photorealism through his numerous, enlarged portraits.

The painter turned to creating portraits, in part, to refute critic Clement Greenberg's claim that it was impossible for an "advanced" artist to paint portraiture. Because Close methodically paints in a grid his work has drawn comparison to such Minimalists as Agnes Martin and Sol Lewitt. He has established a reputation independent of Photorealism and is considered one of contemporary art's leading figures and portraitists.

Acrylic on canvas - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Ralph Goings: McDonalds Pickup (1970)
Artwork Images

McDonalds Pickup (1970)

Artist: Ralph Goings

Artwork description & Analysis: Here, the artist Ralph Goings has selected a rather pedestrian view as his subject - a jeep, McDonald's, and the American flag. Goings paints these icons of the American highways with great attention to detail, aided in large part by using photographs. The artist has chosen to remove such extraneous details as people and detritus that would detract from the canvas's subject matter. In this manner, Goings along with other Photorealists has diversified the traditional artistic genres maintained since the 17th century. He paints such banal subjects with great care so that together with the artist we consider what in fact comprises American culture. In lieu of the great cathedrals of Europe with their vaulted arches, America - he seems to suggest - has these "golden" arches to herald its cultural heritage.

Oil on canvas

Richard Estes: Supreme Hardware Store (1974)
Artwork Images

Supreme Hardware Store (1974)

Artist: Richard Estes

Artwork description & Analysis: In this painting, we view a run-down, cluttered city filled with reflective signs and storefronts, awash with bold signage and lettering. This unremarkable setting, however, is painted with the utmost care and precision, a testament to Richard Estes' craftsmanship. Estes has stated the pragmatic reason he bases his paintings on photographs: "It's silly to work from drawings when I can do better with photographs." Painted in 1974, the height of Photorealism, works such as this by Estes were acclaimed for their urban aesthetic that reflected New York City as the city was on the threshold of bankruptcy. The artist's work method differs from that of other Photorealists in that he neither uses a grid system, nor a projector to transfer his images onto the canvas. With his great attention to detail and realism, Richard Estes helped to bring the academic tradition of easel painting back into vogue, aspiring to reflect a sense of beauty found in past artistic periods, such as the Flemish art of Jan Van Eyck. Besides his urban subject matter, Estes technical prowess is one of his main contributions to Photorealism.

Oil and acrylic on canvas

Duane Hanson: The Woman Eating (1971)
Artwork Images

The Woman Eating (1971)

Artist: Duane Hanson

Artwork description & Analysis: This sculpture is a life-size woman seated at a cafeteria table, plainly dressed, with her bags and packages by her side. The woman is dressed in actual clothes and her belongs, also, are real objects. Overweight, not particularly attractive, Hanson's statue goes against the grain of artists beautifying the female form. Likely to fool the eye, it is only when the viewer gets up close to the work that the tiniest of brush strokes reveal the work's artificiality. Hanson's statues are usually located in the refined spaces of art museums and galleries, which renders imagery of ordinary folk into fine art. Hanson admitted to presenting a social message via his sculptures, expressing a sense of the resignation, emptiness and loneliness of suburban existence. Here, there is an aspect of pathos to the solitary woman eating alone, especially if we consider that within a museum she becomes an object of study and inadvertent stares. As with Chuck Close, Hanson focuses on human beings as his subject matter, rather than the reflective glass and chrome of other Photorealists. Hanson makes his viewers question who is worthy of being an artistic subject; what is the viewer's social relation to the statue/person and any other association between the strange presence and us.

Polyester resin, fiberglass, polychromed in oil paint with clothes, table, chair and accessories - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Charles Bell: Circus Act (1995)
Artwork Images

Circus Act (1995)

Artist: Charles Bell

Artwork description & Analysis: In the playful Circus Act, Charles Bell depicts two colorful and simple metal toys. He positions the toys as if mid-motion, like a circus procession, expressing wonderment- a quality that is prevalent throughout Bell's work. The painter focuses on small and insignificant objects, making them the subjects of his work, in order to question our culture values, as well as to play with the interplay of high and low culture. With his interest in mass produced, often inexpensively made objects, Bells makes high art of low culture, or here, out of child's play. Remarkably, the artist did not receive any formal artistic training. He is praised for his technical abilities, most notably his ability to create high-glossy surfaces and shiny objects.

Silkscreen on paper - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Audrey Flack: World War II (Vanitas) (1977-78)
Artwork Images

World War II (Vanitas) (1977-78)

Artist: Audrey Flack

Artwork description & Analysis: Before us is a still-life arrangement that juxtaposes beautiful and sumptuous objects such as the red rose, strand of pearls, and small desserts, with an iconic photograph of the Holocaust. Audrey Flack addresses the Jewish Holocaust, memory, and the fragility of life appropriating Margaret Bourke-White's iconic black and white photograph taken at the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp in 1945, which she surrounds with such traditional emblems of loss and the passage of time as a watch, a rose, a butterfly, and a burning candle (perhaps a memorial or yahrzeit candle). Flack states that the red candle which drips wax reminiscent of blood is "a memorial to bridge time between 1945 and the present, to burn always in the present." In addition, she includes such specific Jewish objects as a six-pointed Jewish star from her own keychain, as well as texts related to Jewish culture and religion. These objects and symbols communicate traditional art historical idea about the transience of life (pieces of fruit going bad) and of beauty that will fade. Flack utilizes modern technology and work methods in service of centuries-old artistic concerns and subject matter, making momento-mori (Latin: Remember you, too, will die) for our era. Vanitas speaks of contrasts, that of death as well as life with its elements of beauty. Towards the borders of the work Flack has painted traces of a rainbow, the sign given to Noah that the world would survive. Ultimately, survival - as the men in the photograph had survived the death camps - is the work's summarizing message.

Oil over acrylic on canvas - Private Collection

Malcolm Morley: Tackle (2004)
Artwork Images

Tackle (2004)

Artist: Malcolm Morley

Artwork description & Analysis: Before us, is an up-close image of professional football players in mid-action. There are no hidden messages in British artist's work that tended to depict subjects that have a larger than life quality. Morley brings a sensationalist attitude to Photorealism. This trait also endows his paintings with a form of expressionism to Morley's paintings, which have a comic book like quality without the cartoonish effects of some Pop art works, like those of Roy Lichtenstein (a predecessor whom Morley admires greatly). Morley succeeds at evoking tension and the anticipation of pain, and the image itself is a snapshot of rapid motion, which is quite unusual among Photorealist works. Incidentally, Morley has stated his preference for the moniker of Superrealism, rather than Photorealism.

Oil on linen - Private collection

Denis Peterson: Diogenes II (2009)
Artwork Images

Diogenes II (2009)

Artist: Denis Peterson

Artwork description & Analysis: A gray-haired man slumbers in public on a park bench during daytime that seems somewhat inappropriate. Peterson's exacting drawing and painting enables him to paint literal interpretations of high-resolution photographs, achieving an even greater verisimilitude than others - his images are sharper, more literal interpretations. This is in part due to his use of more sophisticated imaging tools than was available at the beginnings of Photorealism. He sought such heightened believability in order to further push social issues into the art world, similar to sculptor Duane Hanson. Peterson titled his work after the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic who made a virtue of poverty and begged for a living. Anointing the sleeping, somewhat disheveled figure with the same name of the philosopher both ennobles the man and interjects a note of irony. Diogenes II is a typical Peterson work in that it juxtaposes scenes of poverty with everyday city life. Peterson is known for his fine draftsmanship and is technically more advanced than prior Photorealists. His techniques and effects illustrate that Photorealism, while based in the 1970s, continues on and that new technological advancements offers both challenges and opportunities to the artists.

Acrylic on panel - Private collection



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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

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" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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