Photorealist Painting: The Devil’s in the Details
This weekend, Westmount’s Galerie de Bellefeuille is launching a massive exhibition called Beyond Photorealism, in coordination with the Photorealist movement’s greatest advocate, SoHo gallery owner Louis K. Meisel. The show brings together over 100 works by 61 international artists; both contemporary practitioners and those who originated the form are represented, including Ralph Goings and Audrey Flack.
A splinter from the Pop Art movement, Photorealist painters recreate source photographs in minute detail, as realistically as possible. The form evolved in part as a backlash against Abstract Expressionism, as well as in reaction to the tidal wave of photographic images over the course of the twentieth century and their meaning in the context of contemporary art.
Meisel accidentally coined the term during a post-opening 1969 interview. At the time, the nascent movement was ducking critiques of their use of cameras and other reproductive technologies, which were necessary to paint scenes in such detail. Meisel wanted a term that showed that “these were artists that unabashedly used and actually legitimized the use of the camera to gather the information needed to make a painting.”
The form creates an aesthetics of technique, and its artists require “the discipline and technical ability to utilize paint and brush to create a painting with enough detail or illusion of detail to simulate a photograph. In most cases they went well beyond what a camera and film could produce.”
The original Photorealist painters chose an unusual range of subjects in order to interrogate what constitutes appropriate subject matter for art. Like Pop, they depicted consumer products and everyday objects, although they also often took on mundane or cliché art subjects such as landscapes and fruit bowls (the movement has an enduring fondness for food as a subject).
In many cases, scenes are painted in such detail as to make the subject seem unreal or hyperreal. However these illusions are apolitical; the irreality of even hyperrealism ultimately reflects a focus on technique.
Meisel and several of the original Photorealist painters will be on hand at the gallery’s two-day vernissage this weekend, as well as many of the contemporary artists participating in the show. ■
Beyond Photorealism is on at Galerie de Bellefeuille (1367 Greene), until Oct. 2. The vernissages for the exhibit take place Sept. 8 and 9, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.