On Photorealism

2 Feb

Looking at any of Pedro Campos’ works, you can spend a good amount of time looking at the picture from a distance, and just being amazed at how lifelike it is. Then, you can look closely, and marvel at the individual brush strokes which you can just see that form the tiny spot of light on a piece of fruit! In an age when using tools and computer packages make producing images so easy, it is impressive to see that these artists are still working painstakingly to produce an original image.

Now, I must admit, I am not completely familiar with some of the techniques and tools some of the photorealists use to produce their images. I understand that Ralph Goings, for example, who is now in his 80s, does use a screen from which he then traces the outline of the image onto the canvas. Other artists may use other techniques and devices. I suppose effectively what he then does is “colour it in”. But this for me is something else to marvel at. I mean, I find it amusing that he uses a tool to produce the outline image, before applying the paint. For me, this is the essential part, and I would have thought, a far more difficult and involved process, given the fantastic detail involved.

An interesting point to acknowledge again is that every photorealist artist is different. You might imagine that if they are all doing pretty much a similar thing, most of their work would be similar. Far from it. For another aspect of this form of art is honing your individual style. And here the choice of subject matter is significant. Ralph Goings has passed his skills down to his sons, for example, but Drew Goings’ work can still be easily identified. Drew’s current choice of subject matter is neon signs, such as you might see outside motels in America. His dad preferred interiors, or still lifes of things within a diner, such as pepper pots.

It is interesting to note that for some reason, many photorealists also choose subjects that in a sense have a kind of “pop” feel, such as Cesar Santander’s paintings of Betty Boop dolls, so it is almost a new kind of pop art, like a refined version, or even, a perfect version for an age that seeks perfection – the best car, the best phone, etc.

What I also like about photorealists is that, in a less obvious way than other artists, they also like to show off. When choosing what to “copy” they do not pick easy subject matter. Instead they choose things like glass and reflections. They can make you completely believe that what you are looking at is a straw in a glass, because in the picture, it looks convincingly crooked, as it does in real life. Still though, while some artists, such as Steve Smulka, stick to glass, others such as Cynthia Poole will paint sweet wrappers (or, on occasion, sweet wrappers with glass), getting the detail of the lettering, and the packaging perfectly.

I have heard it said of photorealism that it is a “masculine” form of art, perhaps because a lot of hard graft goes into the work, which might be associated with masculinity. However, as if to disprove this, there are a number of excellent female artists within the scene, including Cynthia Poole (mentioned above), and Elena Molinari. 

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