Delving in to Photorealism

Now that my Hopper reproduction is well on the way to being complete, it’s time to think about the next project.

We have been tasked to research a contemporary artist or movement in tonal realism painting, and produce our own work based on that research. Since I naturally have quite a loose way of working, I’d like to challenge myself to learn something new by exploring a totally foreign method.

So, what’s the opposite of loose and light? Photorealistic!

As the name suggests, photorealistic painters heavily rely on photographs. As technology has evolved, so too have photorealists’ ways of working. The photograph is not just a means to an end to reproduce an image. Photorealists go out of their way to utilise the full extent of the camera, with careful consideration of focus, composition and depth of field, even going as far as reproducing the artefacts produced by the camera lens in their paintings.

I borrowed a handful of really quite beautiful books on the subject from the library. My favourite was a little gem by Louis K. Meisel, who seems to have released a series of basically the same book with different examples of work. The two artists who most closely represent what I’m going for are Ralph Goings, and Roberto Bernardi.

Ralph Goings

Roberto Bernardi

I had this preconceived idea that photorealism meant one style of painting and one only. Flipping through the book in conjunction with some chats with my teacher, I came to realise that there is much more to it than that.

Early photorealism as a movement was in response to the advent of the camera. Some artists felt that painting was challenged by the new medium as a new, more immediate way of depicting something, and a conduit for “truth”. Several artists responded to this by painting “ordinary” photographs of everyday objects or scenes in excruciating detail, adding another dimension of value to the image above and beyond what photography could deliver. The human ability to transpose something as detailed and mechanised as a photograph one-ups the artist over photography in a way. I wonder if this is why many artists choose to paint shiny, crisp objects.

How can I translate this to my own project? I’m going to paint something shiny, at a large scale. It should be a mundane object but beautiful in composition and execution. I’d like it to be something so contemporary and ubiquitous that its presence on a canvas makes people smirk, and question its reason for being laboured over in such detail. It should be a meditation of sorts, just as much about the detail as the overall.

I’m going to paint giant chips.

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