In our modern age, the incessant prevalence of photography, both analog and digital, has vastly changed how we see. In other eras, it was only the artist’s adept hand and keen eye that could transpose the world around us onto a two-dimensional surface. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new art movement arose that forged a bridge between photography and painting: Photorealism.
This new group of artists employed photographs as the source material for their paintings. They would transfer the photograph’s visual information to the canvas through mechanical means, either by grid or projector, to accurately copy the composition’s blueprint. The actual execution of the artwork would be done solely by the artist’s hand. The resulting painting had to be so precise, pristine and flawless that the finished product looked like a photograph. The first Photorealist artists include impressive contemporary masters such as Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Richard Estes and Robert Bechtle. Their technical virtuosity is so immensely impressive that the viewer is left questioning whether the finished work is a photograph or a painting.
Rejecting the abstract and expressionist art movements that came before, the Photorealists firmly rooted themselves in the legacy of Pop Art by appropriating their source material from different contexts. These artists chose utterly mundane subject matter for their compositions: be it generic mug-shot style portraits, banal still lifes of ketchup bottles on a diner counter or empty interiors of subway cars. The Photorealists recorded the world around them with the mechanical sterility of the camera and yet celebrated the history of painting by replicating the look, feel and style of photography with mere paint on canvas.
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