Monday, 7 February 2011

Photorealism Research

PAINTING 2: Exploring Concepts
Part 1 – Painting in Detail

Project: Surrealism

Exercise . Photorealism Research

Once the “art scene” changed to America after the last World War, the development of Surrealism and after that action painting had chance to develop where there was no real evidence of strong art movements as there had been in Europe in general, Paris in particular.

This provided fertile ground for innovation and there were plenty of wealthy Americans willing to invest in new styles of art which were indicative of the promise of a new world, reminiscent of the “American Dream”. 

Abstract Expressionism developed and from that people like Jackson Pollock discovered “action painting”.  There were no bounds with this type of immediacy in painting, often going against public taste.  The idea of the artist expressing some mystical internal idea meant that subsequent generations wanted to effectively de-mystify objects and possibly helped by Josef Albers experiments in juxtapositions of colour and tone, artists like Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol began to re-introduce realism back into art, and Pop Art came on to the scene, it was a natural progression from there for Photorealism or Hyper-realism to come into being.  The camera obscura could be said to be the first instrument to be used to illustrate an image back in the 18th Century when artists used it for that purpose, although mention is made of the pinhole camera back in 470BCE in China, referred to then as a “locked treasure room”!

 In the 1960s and 70s artists like Richard Estes, who was considered the leading artist of the genre at the time, began painting from photographs focusing on reflections of metal and glass, particularly with shop fronts and city life.  His Big Diamond is a typical example of his work.  He frequently used acrylic as well as oil as a medium.

Richard Estes   Big Diamond, 1978 Acrylic on board (copywright Bridgeman Library)

Malcolm Morley is another artist exploring Photorealism and his painting Wall Jumpers
painted in 2002 in oil is typical of his bold use of colour and hard outlines.  He also did many paintings of race-horses and jockeys, as well as motorbikes and cars, and aeroplanes.

Lucian Freud’s studies are analytical like Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical work.  It is interesting that he paints his mother as frequently as he does.  Mothers and their sons are always interesting.

Likewise John Wonnacott is more of a realist painter than a photorealist painter.

I particularly enjoyed the variety of subject matter in Max Ferguson’s work

                        Katz’s II, 1998 (oil on canvas) Max Ferguson (copywright Bridgeman Library)

                         Forward 1996 (oil on canvas), Max Ferguson copywright Bridgeman Library

I am not sure to what extent he alters the  photograph, but the composition, is particularly well balanced, and frequently using muted colours.

Another artist whose work is more what I would call Hyper-realism is  that of Ben Schonzeit.  His flower paintings are exquisitely detailed, and again the composition is meticulous.

         Clear Caribe, 1990 (acrylic on canvas), Ben Schonzeit, copywright Bridgeman Library

    White Roses on Black, 2000 (acrylic on linen) Ben Schonzeit, copywright Bridgeman Library

I also enjoy the way he introduces humour, as in Clear Corot, where he paradies the oarsman from Bridges of Mantes (Camille Corot) with a typical distant Corot background.

I think used in this way photorealism doesn’t have to be clinical, and I would like to explore the idea of transposing some of the colours.  I had in mind painting the Arum Lily in black with orange leaves and a yellow background and other similar transformations.

One other artist who impressed me was Yang Ming Yue, “Chinese Ladies”. Refreshingly calm and elegant, some might say sentimental, in a world full of harrowing images.

An Exhibition “The Painting of Modern Life 1960s to now” caused confusion amongst critics,’why would anyone want to paint a photograph?’  That question for me is apposite because it is one I have asked myself.

The convergence of painting and the photographic image has never been closer.  We can enhance photos to have the look of a painting, line drawing, charcoal, pastel whatever, and in art we can reproduce the photograph with amazing closeness, so why do we choose to do it?  I think the magic word is “edit”.  On the OCA blog recently a musician mentioned “interpretation” in music and rather ignorantly I said I had always thought of music as being played as the composer intended with the conductor ensuring this.  It seems the ability to interpret/edit is the human faculty that comes into play to make something individual, to turn a photo into art or vice versa.  The limitations are only related to the trend itself.  How long will the genre remain popular before a new, in fact the “latest” development comes along, and therein lies its potential, can it re-invent itself?  I think there is still some mileage because we are obsessive about images, we are bombarded with them through the media so in order to see through the image to understand the message behind it is becoming ever more important if we are not to be saturated by over-exposure. 

Even the 3D image is back and that too, with computer visualizaton and virtual worlds will open up completely new ideas. Maybe corner shaped canvases, ovoids, with layers of glass over them to add dimension of a different kind.  What the canvas can never compete with is the lit image on a screen, so maybe the art image has to have a screen to be appreciated in this modern world, after all one can “hang” photos in a viewer these days, so why not enhanced artworks in the same format?

Reference and Source material:

The Shock of the New, Robert Hughes, Thames & Hudson, 1980, 1991, 1993

Art made Modern, Roger Fry, Merrell Holberton, 1999
The Century of Change, British Painting since 1900 Richard Shone, Phaidon Press, 1977
The World of Marcel Duchamp, Time Life Books 1966

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