Photorealism in Painting
Photorealism in Painting
Photorealism was an art movement that strove to reproduce objects on the canvas in almost microscopic detail, with artists adhering to representational verisimilitude (representing objects as they appear to the eye) as was within their particular skill sets. Beginning in the late 1960s almost simultaneously in California and New York, this art movement by its very nature subverted the idea that artists deposited a wealth of biographical information into each of their works. Art critics suddenly had much less to go on when attempting to assemble a case for meaning at their local gallery, given that photorealism was simply about representing the object as any observer (not just the artist) would see it in the world.
Subject matter was incredibly varied, from portraits to local signage to simple objects like household appliances. Many artists saw photorealism as a way to preserve a world that was changing with an alarming rapidity, as the 1970s and 1980s saw a vast reduction in locally-owned shops (many of which had been in their communities for decades) in favor of national chains. This was the beginnings of the big-box store boom, which would eventually culminate in gigantic national enterprises like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Photorealism, in a sense, was a reaction against this trend, an effort to isolate the elements of local American history before they were displaced by national chains which had no particular loyalty to individual communities.
In this sense, photorealism was somewhat of a political art movement, yet it was also, in the purest sense, devoid of any active messages. Most artists simply reproduced what they saw, choosing objects for no other reason than wanting to test their skills at reproducing the object as closely as possible. The act of photorealistic reproduction was (and still is) viewed as an excellent test of drawing and painting technique, as the way that light plays off of objects in the natural world (as perceived by the human eye) is quite difficult to replicate on paper. Artists utilized a wide variety of inks, pencils, and shading effects to replicate natural light on a number of surfaces, including plastic, metal, and wood. Some photorealistic artists also combine multiple sources when assembling a new work, fusing elements from several source photographs to create a new reality that did not exist in any one photo. Many artists also choose to disclose the sources of their visual representation, so that art critics may get a more complete picture of where the work came from before assessing it.
Keywords: art movement, photorealism, art critics, visual representation, artists