A noteworthy photorealist artist in our collection is, in the spirit of contemporary photorealism, using the movement’s style and technique to create surrealist images. London-based artist, Mark Metcalfe’s paintings are dreamlike, addressing the blurred lines between what is memory and what is imagination. As shown in his work Stigmatic Girl, Metcalfe uses a snapshot in time to develop a narrative within his paintings.
Photorealism is very much a genre of our time. It’s a fairly recent art movement that involves the recreation of photographs through painting, drawing and sculpture. Photorealist artists use cameras to capture and study their subject matter which they then try to recreate as closely as possible. Photorealism can be practiced in many mediums, and stylistically the genre relies on the precise depiction of its subject matter.
A branch of the much older art movement, realism, photorealism developed as a response to the invention of the camera. The advent of photography in the 19th century led to artists using cameras as visual aids and photographs as source material for their work. Although the movement is primarily associated with painting and drawing, there are a number of sculptors associated with photorealism for their lifelike sculptures of real people with hair and real clothes - think Madame Tussauds.
Photorealism began in America in the 1960’s and 70’s. According to art critics, it evolved from Pop Art and as a counter to Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. Unlike these art movements, Photorealism is a richly detailed genre that’s concerned with capturing minute elements of real scenes.
For artists to be considered as part of the movement, they must have exhibited work in the genre before 1972. But since the genre relies on the camera, the latest developments in photographic technology are helping artists innovate in the genre today. Cameras have changed a great deal since the 1970’s and so have the processing software used to alter images. Artists are able to edit and alter the images in ways unimaginable at the start of the movement, causing many to move on from the strict definition of photorealism as the reproduction of the photograph.
Throughout history, most painters have been secretive of their use of photographs in painting, the act of copying elements of a photograph is almost considered cheating. In contrast, photorealists acknowledge the reproduction and artificiality of art and don’t deny their dependence on photographs for the production of their work. While some photorealist artists emulate the perfections of photographs, others reproduce the imperfections that result from film photography, blurring and overexposure.
The evolution of photography has brought about photorealistic paintings that surpass what was once thought possible in painting. These newer paintings are now referred to as Hyperrealism. Contemporary photorealism artists are combining elements of photorealism with other mediums and media as the genre continues to grow in popularity.
It’s difficult to talk about photorealism without talking about artist-documentarian John Baeder. Baeder is widely acknowledged as one of the most important 21st century photorealist artists in America. He’s best known for his paintings of American roadside diners and eateries, with John’s Diner with John Chevelle being his most widely recognised work.
While the world will remember him as a photorealist artist, many of his close followers consider him more as someone who chronicled the disappearance of a very American style of architecture. He imagined these very American diners as temples from lost civilisations.
Originally an advertising professional, he left the field, he says, “out of self-respect and to see if he could do what he loved most and paint full time”. In the first year he began exhibiting his work in major galleries and today his watercolours and oil paintings can be seen in art museums throughout America. He continues to live and work in Nashville Tennessee.
A contemporary of Baeder is the American photorealist painter, sculptor and photographer, Audrey Flack. Flack’s early work in the 1950’s was abstract expressionist, which gradually became new realist and then evolved into photorealism in the 1960’s. Like many artists of photorealism, she wanted to communicate with her audience. Although she’s moved on from the genre, some of her most famous works will let her be remembered as a central member of the movement.
Flack was the first photorealist painter whose work was added to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. One of her most recognised paintings is Marilyn, which is part of her series Vanitas. Her painting features a photograph of the icon Marilyn Monroe, surrounded by symbolic objects, flowers, fruit and a lit candle.