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49 artworks, 15 artists
Photorealism as an art movement originated in the 1960s in the United States of America. By that time, abstraction, minimalism and pop art reigned in the world of art, and photography became the leading way of fixing the surrounding reality and an artist’s assistant in his/her work with models or in the open air. The new trend revived public interest in realistic painting. The artists working in this style tried to achieve an absolute similarity between painting and photography. Despite the visual similarity, the photorealist paintings, in contrast to photographs, were absolutely unique artworks.
In their work, some artists used a projector to copy an image onto their canvas. The photorealist’s tool is an airbrush, a device that has been used for photo retouching for many years. Those who preferred to work with a brush tried to achieve the absolute smoothness of the painting surface, a classic academic skill of painter. The photorealistic pictures definitely stood out against the general background of modern techniques: the landscapes and objects were reproduced with exceptional accuracy. The artists only based their work on the photo images, excluding the element of observing the object.
The term “photorealism” was coined in 1969 by the American writer and art dealer Louis K. Meisel, owner of one of the first Soho art galleries. Two years later, Meisel, being a passionate admirer and collector of photorealism, came up with and published the main definitions of this trend. 1. The photorealist uses camera and photography to gather information. 2. The photorealist uses mechanical or semi-mechanical means to transfer information to the canvas. 3. The photorealist must have drawing skills in order to make the finished work as similar to the photograph as possible. 4. The artist had to exhibit as a photorealist by 1972 to be considered one of the central artists of the art movement. 5. The artist had to devote at least five years to the development and exhibitions of photorealistic works.
The founder of photorealism is considered to be a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago Richard Estes. Like many of his friends, the young artist used photography as a preparation stage for painting landscapes. Having moved to New York, he re-imagined urban spaces and began to transfer the images from photography to canvas with realistic accuracy and high level of detail. Soon Chuck Close, Ralph Goings, Charles Bell, Audrey Flack and others began to try their hand in this new genre. There were no uniform doctrines: each one developed his own idea of the image realism. In 1970, thanks to the Meisel’s efforts, the artworks of photorealists were presented at the Whitney Museum, at the Twenty-Two Realists exhibition.
The art movement grew stronger throughout the 1970s and it quickly became an international phenomenon. This was facilitated by the move of Richard Estes to Spain, as well as the German Documenta 5 international art exhibition, which took place in 1972 and became the most representative exhibition, which presented the art of photorealism to the European public. The sculptors did not stand aside; striving to achieve the highest degree of realism, they dressed their sculptures in real clothes and used real jewellery and décor.
In 1973, photorealism was replaced by a new style, hyperrealism. The artists of this direction also worked in realistic technique, though they did not seek to reproduce photographs exactly, but rather used them as a source of inspiration.