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Photorealist, Richard Estes..The L Train

Photorealist, Richard Estes..The L Train

Photorealism and Hyperrealism

An art dealer first used the term Hyperréalisme (meaning Photorealism) back in the early 1970s to describe a genre of painting and sculpture that mimicked the exactness of high resolution photography. Photorealism depicted images frozen in time and grew out of American Pop Art in the late sixties and gained momentum throughout the seventies.

Hyperrealism is a development of photorealism but is considered a movement in its own right. Although the two movements are closely linked and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are differences between 21st century hyperrealism and photorealism. It was US painter Denis Peterson who first appllied the term to a 'splinter group' of artists who were moving away from the literalist approach of the photorealists (reproducing still images as a camera would) toward a more emotional and super-detailed style.

Thus while the hyperrealists tended to be even more exacting about reproducing fine detail than the photorealists (who would sometimes sacrifice tiny detail for the sake of the overall design), they didn't want to omit human emotion or other cultural, political or social values. In style and form they create an image that seems very real but may be illusionary or they may portray a person or object in such fine detail that it is not normally seen by the naked eye. "Hyperreal" suggest something more than real.

The two remarkable hyperrealist artists shown below - Ron Mueck and Roberto Bernardi, have very different styles but belong to the same movement. While the latter's subject matter is more akin to photorealism, Mueck exemplifies the hyperrealist concept of an emotional narrative.

A detail from Dead Dad

A detail from Dead Dad

Ron Mueck

London based Australian artist Ron Mueck has taken hyperrealism to a new level with his giant sculptures of humanity on show and his extraordinarily skilled, sensitive and imaginative figures have made him one of the most acclaimed artists of the contemporary art scene.

Born in Melbourne in 1958, Mueck began his illustrious career as as a puppet maker and handler and in the late 70's/early eighties, he had a stint for a time on children's television as creative director for a show which featured his own puppets (which he voiced and operated).

Notably, he also worked on the film Labyrinth and collaborated with Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) on The Storyteller. Mueck also worked in the advertising industry making props and animatronics. It wasn't until the mid-90's that he professionally transitioned to fine art and success was rapid - in 1999 he was appointed Associate Artist at the London's National Gallery.

The son of German born toy-makers, it seems from an early age was always interested in creating figures and experimenting with different materials and techniques. Much of Muecks art focuses on important milestones in the human life-cycle - from birth through middle age and on to the finality of death. Indeed, he ignited serious attention, as well as controversy, with a highly personal piece - Dead Dad, a silicone sculpture (but using his own hair) of the corpse of his own father; smaller than life-size but striking in its realism.

A just born baby in all its stark 'newness' and the streile environment that surrounds it is a confronting image

A just born baby in all its stark 'newness' and the streile environment that surrounds it is a confronting image

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In Your Face

Mueck's mega-sized baby (above) and the equally super-real face below are three dimensional images that confront us with humanity exposed. These are intimate views of people - a newborn baby, a man sleeping. The viewer feels almost as though they are intruding on something intimate - something deeply personal.

Not that Mueck confines himself to the human form. One of his works, called somewhat poignantly, Still Life, depicts a giant chicken skinned and hanging upside down. In a detached gallery context it's hard not to be moved in some way by the stark statement.

Although Mueck's works reveal incredible detail, as already noted, they are not always to scale and it is here that the artist departs from reality. Some works are huge - the baby above is the size of a caravan and others are smaller than life-size. This playing with scale effects the mood and emotion of each indicidual piece - he is in effect using size to manipulate the viewers response.

Most works are mixed medium - that is, he uses a variety of materials to create his sculptures. For example, Mask II, below, is made from polyester resin, fibreglass, steel, plywood and synthetic hair.

Ron Mueck is not universally admired - an art crtic in Britains Gaurdian newspaper, Jonathon Jones, described the artist's works as blank, empty and brainless:

I felt a wave of nausea when I walked into Ron Mueck's exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland. No, this is not the prelude to a rave review that goes on to explain how the visceral realism of Mueck's models disturbed and moved me to my very gut. The sickness I felt was at the prospect of having to waste time, and words, on this flimsy gimcrack charade, on having to walk around with a straight face and pretend this is an exhibition. Of art.

Johnathon Jones

"Mask II".  Up close and personal with a sleeping male face

"Mask II". Up close and personal with a sleeping male face

In the video below you can get an idea of the scale, variety and despite the critiicism, also of the  sensitivity of some his works. These are intense images of lives..and the emotional resonance for the viewer is hard to ignore. We see ourselves writ large...even in the smaller figures. Whether or not there is real depth to the works, there's no denying the level of skill possessed by the artist.

Everyday images we rarely stop to think about

Everyday images we rarely stop to think about

Roberto Bernadi

Looking at the paintings at right and below, it's hard to believe that these are oil on canvas, so extraordinary is every detail and the whole has all the crispness and clarity of a camera. They are so good - so real, that we might be inclined to ask, what is the point of such paintings? Apart from a sense of awe at the extraordinary skill of the artist, is there anything there that we couldn't get from a photograph?

Unlike Mueck, who's paintings create mood and emotion, Bernadi concentrates on the everday objects of life- dishes waiting in the dishwasher, a running tap surrounded by cleaning equipment.. magazines in a stand. This is the cold, emotionless substance of ordinary life. Yet perhaps the paintings draw our attention to what normally would pass us by. Because we know they are paintings, Bernardi makes us contemplate these objects - we become mesmerised by them. Not just about whatever function they may have, but about their value as aesthetic things..their shape, form and colour. The objects seem brighter, clearer and more striking than they do in real life...they are hyper real.They do also make us think about their context and in doing so makes us think about our lives, however briefly.

A running tap and the detritus of cleaning aids

A running tap and the detritus of cleaning aids

Sparkling and gleaming...dishes in the dishwasher, waiting to be removed

Sparkling and gleaming...dishes in the dishwasher, waiting to be removed

The Ordinary is Extraordinary

Bernardi was born in Todi, Italy in the 1970s and las a young student, studied Renaissance painting and technique. In his twenties he moved to Rome where he worked on the restoration of an 800 year old church - San Francesco a Ripa and it was after this that he immersed himself into the creation of hyperrealist art.

Bernardi's paintings have a high-tech underpinning as he uses advanced photo technology to create a kind of blueprint of reality, after which he employs traditional oil on canvas to create a painting. While it may seem an ultra-modern way to paint, Bernadi uses classical techniques of the 16th and 17th centuries, that require great skill. He creates luminous light that seems to come from the objects themselves and subtle shading that gives the works depth and realism.

Super real everyday objects

Super real everyday objects

Beautiful glass jars with bright confectionary

Beautiful glass jars with bright confectionary

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Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 16, 2011:

I don't know Rod, I haven't been back either. I believe James would have to hold the record there for *most comments on hub*.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on March 16, 2011:

It amazes me how long that Darwin thing lasted! Is it still going on? I haven't looked in for some time now.

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 15, 2011:

Haha Manna..they were fun times!

Manna in the wild from Australia on March 15, 2011:

"Darwin debacle" HA ! I guess I burned out. ;-)

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 15, 2011:

Docmo, although I haven't seen Mueck in r/life, I too am not sure what to make of it. Some of those pieces do seem a bit puppet-like...but yes, the skill is amazing. Thankyou for dropping in!

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 15, 2011:

Hi crystolite...thanks!

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 15, 2011:

De Greek thanks for that really positive comment. Much appreciated.

Thankyou too drbj! Also very much appreciated.

Mohan Kumar from UK on March 15, 2011:

Thanks Jane , I 've seen Mueck's work before and was unsure what to make of it. I was, however, in awe of the craft of hyperrealism ,the textures, colour, contour and materials... This hub is very instructive and interesting. Well done!

Emma from Houston TX on March 15, 2011:

Thanks for your work and research in putting this all together, is usefully educational.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on March 14, 2011:

Thank you, Jane, for the introduction to these extraordinary artists and their realistic works. And thanks for your work and research in putting this all together so beautifully.

De Greek from UK on March 14, 2011:

It is impossible to thank you enough for this! I call this "usefully educational". VERY well done and voted up in every possible way.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on March 14, 2011:

I didn't catch it all, Jane. Unfortunately some of it clashed with my work schedule.

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Rod, that's fair enough..I don't either. I think I can see a Paul Klee influence in some of your work.

Did you catch that series about the Pre-Raphaelites on ABC last year.."Desperate Romantics"?

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Manna...I just realised I misread your question and you were asking me if I'd seen Chuck Close. I read it as 'have I seen Mueck up close? damage.

I came across Chuck researching this hub..his portraits are pretty impressive aren't they? There was a black and white self-portrait that caught my eye in particular.I think it was called "Frank"...looked exactly like a photograph.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on March 14, 2011:

Jane, you are right. I do like a lot of contemporary art. Some leaves me completely cold. Some I find I am energized by.

The 19th century Romantics were about putting nature in all its terror and wonder on canvas. They were also about dreamscapes. I like contemporary dreamscapes best. There is a neo-primitive by Paul Klee of a horse in flight. The animal is in mid leap just about to touch the ground. it is not a perfect painting of a horse but it is a perfect painting of a horse moving. It is a painting about movement and the beauty of movement. It is one of my favorites.

I like the L train. It isn't surreal and not quite a dreamscape but it has that kind of feel about it. It draws you in. The rest I am not crazy about but that is just me. It is all good art, expertly done. I just don't like everything that is out there.

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Hi Tony, thanks for popping in!

Tony McGregor from South Africa on March 14, 2011:

Very interesting. Not my cup of tea, really, but interesting!

Thanks for sharing.

Love and peace


Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Nate..thanks for that. I checked out your link and very interesting it was too...and a good resource. I came across this Richard Estes quote there which seems to fit my reaction to L shaped rain (which I really liked by the way, in spite of the headache it gives me)

~I don't enjoy looking at the things I paint, so why should you enjoy it?~


Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Hi Manna,

I haven't seen you since the Darwin debacle days...;) No, I haven't seen Mueck's work myself. It's the kind of stuff you really would have to physically see to get a handle on it, dont you think?

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Les Trois Chenes...I envy your lifestyle!

It must be really painstaking work to create those images. They kind of jump out at you, don't they...?

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Hi Micky...yes, they are pretty amazing. I still can't get over those Bernardi pictures and Estes "L shaped train" is pretty incredible gives me a headache looking at it.

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on March 14, 2011:

Rod, you can't be that old-fashioned because your own work seems pretty contemporary...? I"m not sure whether I really like Mueck or not...although I certainly appreciate the skill. Part of me agrees with Jonathan Jones..part of me doesn't.I guess that to get the full impact we'd have see the works in the flesh (which I haven't).

Nate on March 13, 2011:

I'm a hyperrealist painter, not to mention a huge fan of the genre. If anyone is interested in learning about more hyperrealist and photorealist painters and sculptors, I have been working on an extensive list of artists from the late '60s to the present. You can find it on the "links" page of my own professional website at they are all truly amazing artists, and I hope more people earn an appreciation for this much over-looked genre of art.

Manna in the wild from Australia on March 13, 2011:

Well written jane. I enjoyed the read. Have you seen the works of chuck close too?

Les Trois Chenes from Videix, Limousin, South West France on March 13, 2011:

Although I'm an artist and studied Art History, I've been out of things for a while, (building, looking after animals, living the good life in France) so all this is new to me. These paintings are breath-taking in their clarity and ability to make both the extra-ordinary and the mundane equally shocking. Many thanks for bringing these images to us.

Micky Dee on March 13, 2011:

Incredible art! Thank you so much for these inspiring images. Amazing!

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on March 13, 2011:

Interesting. Not really my sort of art. I much prefer the style or styles of the 19th Century Romantics. I guess that makes me old fashioned.

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