Ghana International School | John James Akwei Abrahams
Hyperrealism is a relatively new genre of art, the term first used
in 1973 by Isy Brachot a French art dealer. Hyperrealism developed from
the genre photorealism and artists such as Denis Peterson have pioneered
this movement creating a genre as sharp and definitive as photorealism
expressing human emotion, political value and other narrative elements.
This essay consists of four main sections. It will first look into the
origin of hyperrealism and why it started. It will then go on to describe
its development over time. The third section will then go on to understand
the influence of a selected number of artists have had in the development
of this style of work. The final part compares two artists’ inspirations
and reasons for working in this style.
Bacharot first used the expression ‘Hyperréalisme’ as the name
of an exhibition in his art gallery in Brussels in 1973. The exhibition
consisted of photorealists such as Chuck Close, Don Eddy and Robert
To understand fully where hyperrealism started and why,
one has to look at the differences between it and photorealism. Photorealists
use photos as the basis of their work imitating them, intending to make
a statement about the way we see, influenced by looking at the world
through the photograph. The work strictly representing the image as
it is seen every day with no human emotion or other narrative elements,
evolved from Pop art, the photorealistic style of painting was very
precise. Whilst Hyperrealists, also use photos, they go beyond
the limitations of a single photograph to produce a piece with so much
super detail that the image becomes almost abstract. The works are extremely
detailed to create an intensified illusion. The lighting, textures,
and shadows being made to be clearer and much more distinct than the
photo used or even the subject itself. However, the works are
not surreal because the illusion the artists have created is a believable
reality. Hyperrealists, such as Denis Peterson, also depict political
views and human emotion in their work.
Hyperrealism originated when artists such as Denis Peterson, Chuck Close
and Don Eddy began to change their style of painting using more photos
and attempting to make their pictures more intense and lifelike than
the subjects with which they began. Instead of just wanting to create
a perfect copy of the photo, they strived to create a rendition of the
object that is more lifelike and more intense than any photo that any
camera can produce. Don Eddy, for example, would set a camera on a tripod
and shoot series of photographs bracketing each exposure for light so
that in some photos, details are lost in shadow, but highlights show
up. Then in other photos, exposures are set so that details are lost
in highlights, but details show up in the shadows. He focuses on every
depth, so that different photos give him all the details in the very
close foreground, the foreground, the middle ground, the background
and the far distance. He uses all the photos for information. The finished
work, with nothing lost in shadow or highlight and everything in the
sharpest of focus becomes somehow “hyperrealistic".
Each of the artists that have been studied in this dissertation
different reasons for joining this movement. Denis Peterson stated that, ‘The idea of this movement was to focus
on iconic images that are readily overlooked in our culture, despite
the fact that they virtually surround or infiltrate into our personal
lives on some level or another. It was a means to look at the simulation,
what is false in our views of reality, and then to interject a new reality
that was always there, but unseen and/or unfelt.’ Robert Neffson joined this movement in a unique way, he found out about it while
attempting to paint new untraditional, pop subject matter and to merge
it with his interest in photography and film. Alison Van Pelt discovered hyperrealism when she was looking at
Chuck Close’s work and learning about it. She said in an interview
‘The reason I find Hyperrealism compelling is that, by definition,
it creates the illusion of a reality which in fact either does not exist
or cannot be seen by the human eye.’
It was while working with the figure that Eric Zener became motivated to take on the challenge of hyperrealism.
He described the way in which he found out about hyperrealism as part
of a ‘natural evolution’, which brings me onto my next chapter,
‘How Hyperrealism has developed overtime’
As mentioned in the chapter before Isy Brachot was the
first to use the term ‘Hyperréalisme’ but this does not mean that
was where the idea of replicating pictures came from. It was initially
derived from New Realism which was a movement founded by the art critic
Pierre Restany in 1960. It consisted of many French artists who wanted
to break away from the classic realist take on art.
Instead of drawing royalty and idealised figures, the new realist
started drawing less glamorous objects, but painting them in a way that
will bring out the beauty in them. Robert Bechtle was a main figure
in the world of New Realism and was one of the first to start using
simple pictures as his main source of his work. This then developed
into artists relying on the photograph as the object of desire with
technical virtuosity as the challenge, which they called Photorealism.
After this was hyperrealism, a movement described in the last chapter
with Denis Peterson being the main pioneer, since he started on the
scene his fan base has grown and many artists worldwide have attempted
to take on this new challenge called hyperrealism. In the last several
years, hyperrealism has exploded into a number of different approaches
by a large population of very talented painters. In addition, hyperrealism
has undergone a metamorphic change into a variety of directions, all
of them quite interesting. Wide ranges of growing visual motifs have
taken centre stage in many galleries and museums. Some are embedded
with social messages, others with intuitive observations, and yet others
with dynamic worldwide viewpoints.
that hyperrealism uses photographs as sources for work, the advances
in the camera technology world indirectly enables the artists to go
that much further in making their pieces more lifelike. Using photo-browsing
programs, it allows them to capture the image from all angles and enables
them to keep the same lighting.
This has helped landscape hyperrealists greatly, Robert Neffson
stated in an interview with me that ‘The new digital technology makes
building a painting a cinematic experience and also allows for more
efficient and superior detail information. It is like being inside of
my own film. I can stop it at any instant, dissect and use these stills
for whatever the painting needs. At the touch of a finger I can call
up, for instance, a dozen variations of the people in a crowd’. He
also expressed how the new technology enables him to feel as if he is
working from life without nature ‘constantly changing’. In the studio,
he is able to get that much closer to the traditional way of work yet
with unlimited choices.
Hyperrealism is now a leading and controversial art movement
in many places, i.e. USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland,
Spain, and Mexico with Paul Cadden , Denis Peterson, Eric Zener,
Robert Neffson, Alison Van Pelt, and Jason DeGraaf among them. I
have had the privilege to study many of these painters, finding their
unique approaches and individual styles both captivating and energising.
chosen artists in this dissertation (Neffson, Zener, Van Pelt, and Peterson)
have influenced the development of this style of work in different ways,
each unique yet important.
Robert Neffson, primarily a landscape artist, taking city scenes and
adapting them into large hyper-realistic paintings. He stated that ‘I
paint from the desire to create and preserve my experience. It usually
starts with a strong emotion I have in a specific place. Then I build
the image using a combination of memories and photographs for reference’.
He feels that he has influenced the genre by the sheer number of photos
which has enabled him to give them a new lifelikeness and freshness
that copying only one or two photos would never allow, for each painting
of his there could easily be hundreds of shots taken. He also feels
that the use of the latest photo-technology has enabled him to take
his work that much further. Looking at Robert Neffson’s piece ‘57th
street and 5th avenue’ (Fig. 6) you notice that his imense attention to detail and his vary careful
study of proportions and perspective bring the picture out amazingly.
When looking his treatment of the main central bulding, it is perfectly
inline with the buildings following it down the streets either side
of it. This is how he has influenced hyperrealism, by the beauty of
his landscape art he has set a high standard for other landscape artists
who are attempting the ‘challenge that is hypperrealism.’
Eric Zener is a hyperrealist artist whose focus is the human figure.
He has been a painter for 22 years and explained that painting is both
‘a habit and a living while also being a hobby’. Eric Zener did
an in depth study of water in 2003, his paintings mainly depicted
women swimming underwater amidst air bubbles, or diving into the water,
and some just around water in general (Fig. 1 ‘Between Two Places’). After doing this
he went on to include beach scenes and businessmen in unexpected settings
for example by swimming pools or on tightropes (Fig. 10, 11). He feels
that he is not the person to judge how he has adapted this genre of
art and that ‘only history will tell’. I however believe that his
witty, daring attitude to his work sets him apart from the rest and
his study of water has set a new
boundary for how
realistic you can make a piece of work without it actually becoming
Alison van pelt has interpreted hyperrealism in an almost abstract
way; I quote ‘It’s my way of merging the tradition of portraiture
with contemporary abstraction. I’m interested in ambiguity.’ She
will set out using just a pencil to draw her portrait with extreme detail,
which is then blurred in the finished portrait. I feel that Alison Van
Pelt has opened the genre of hyperrealism to a completely new area by
combining it with the abstract genre producing something new.
Peterson has always utilized hyperrealism in a way to send messages
to the world, some of his painting series include ‘genocide’ and
‘homelessness’ (Fig. 15, 16, 17). He does this to express his views
and to urge people to understand the problems going on in this earth.
Paintings such as ‘don’t shed no tears’ are blatant messages
urging people to help the poor and also urging large wealthy country’s
to intervene. By breaking away from photorealism, with a few other notable
artists such as Richard Estes, Audrey Flack and Chuck Close, Denis Peterson is also widely recognized as the pioneer of hyperrealism,
setting a standard and the pace for several hundred other artists to
follow in his footsteps. I feel that Denis Peterson has influenced
hyperrealism in numerous ways, not only was he one of the original hyperrealists,
he also has adapted it into a means of interacting with the world and
a way of sending out clear messages of situations which many artists
are scared of dealing with. Denis Peterson has had a huge influence
on the world of hyperrealism.
was able to send out a questionnaire to a number of artists, of this
group I have chosen Denis Peterson and Alison Van Pelt. In the questionnaire,
they both answered the question: what is your main motivation or inspiration
Denis Peterson replied, “Inspiration does not come as an initiating
or motivating emotion. It arises out my work, rather than being a condition
precedent to creativity. Once I have engaged in either a single painting,
or more typically, in a painting series, there are many unexpected outcomes
that inspire me to do my very best to integrate those outcomes and to
develop evocative works. Each and every piece was first and foremost
a painting, and then a message, usually subliminal due to the alternate
reality being presented by way of hyperrealism as a school of art. It
was a means to look at the simulation, what is false in our views of
reality, and then to interject a new reality that was always there,
but unseen and/or unfelt. “
As you can see Denis Peterson feels that it is while working he feels
inspired, motivated by an urge to develop any outcomes, and to adapt
his paintings into messages. Denis Peterson feels that he must use his
art to send messages out to the world, and that hyperrealism is more
than just an art form but in a sense a way of life.
Van Pelt replied, “I am compelled by light and shadow. The rendering
of a cast shadow
simulating three dimensions in a two dimensional format is magical.
I was fascinated by the technical expertise of the photo-realist painters.
They influenced my drawings in the 1970's, but in the 80's when I started
painting with oils, my biggest influence was Francis Bacon. I wanted
to paint like Bacon, but all my work looked like blurry photographs.
Eventually I accepted that this was my natural inclination and have
explored this mode of painting ever since. I have been told my paintings
resemble photographs and even holograms, but when observed closely,
broad brushstrokes are visible. I paint a realistic image, and then
blur it with brushes while the paint is still wet. I love to create
the illusion of reality, but an alternate reality, like a memory or
a dream. I like the idea that, by blurring the paint, as surface details
are softened or erased, a deeper essence emerges. I have often wished
to paint more expressively, with less control, but after 30 years engaged
in the practice of painting, I recognize that my genuine impulse is
to render realistic imagery. However, by blurring these carefully painted
representations, I can push the tightness of the rendering and create
a more expansive feeling. It is the blurring of the image that sets
me free creatively and moves the imagery of my paintings into the realm
Alison Van Pelt on the other hand is inspired by the components of
art that go into the buildup of the final piece, components such as
light and shadows. She has chosen to paint in this genre because no
matter how she works, she always finds herself striving to make it perfect,
and it somehow becomes hyperrealism. She paints particularly because
she loves to create an alternate reality like memories and dreams.
When looking at the differences between these two artists you begin
to understand exactly how diverse hyperrealism is, with some people
taking it as a challenge, some as a way of communication and others
as a means of expression. This shows exactly how this genre of art has
developed from a very mechanical abstract genre into a less strict,
more creative genre yet still managing to hold the aesthetic qualities
of its originator photorealism.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Art Dissertation, Ghana International School | John James Akwei Abrahams, Hyperrealism, Alison Van Pelt, Chuck Close, Denis Peterson, Don Eddy and Robert Bechtle.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
by Tom Mulliner
Marilyn Minter, Alison Van Pelt, Will Cotton, Gerhard Richter, Ben Weiner, Harriet White
In thinking about what to paint, I find myself remembering art movements and artists I discovered in art school. When browsing art in bookstores and libraries, I tend to initially gravitate towards more realistic art. And one of the art movements I loved in art school is photorealism.
Since graduating, it seems that a new variety of that movement has sprung to life called hyperrealism, which essentially takes photorealism to a new level by making a work of art look more realistic than a photograph. This is achieved by adding richer shadows, brighter highlights, and more saturated colors. In the Wikipedia article on hyperrealism above, I found several artists whose work I particularly admire:
- Antonio López
- David Kassan
- Sebastian Kruger
- Andrey Lekarski
- Jerry Ott
- Glennray Tutor
- Alison Van Pelt
What I like about photorealism and hyperrealism is that they showcase technical proficiency. You cannot deny that the artist can paint, draw, or sculpt what he or she sees. (That is, unless they employ technical assistance, like a projector or tracing paper, tricks that may be common and can certainly be justified with a simple, if "immoral," plea to the inherent goodness of technological progress.) You look at their work and instinctively think, "This artist has talent."
However, what I dislike, and more so in the case of photorealism, is that their work typically looks exactly like a photograph. But, so what? The question isn't, "Can you make a painting look like a photograph?" but, rather, "Why should you?" I applaud technical ability, that seemingly basic ability to draw what you see, but such fidelity, while a fundamental of visual art, does not define or encapulate it. Art is more than drawing. Art is also about creativity and ideas.
So, while I deeply admire photorealism and hyperrealism, I find that they lack creativity and, aside from the call to appreciate beauty in the everyday, fail to communicate compelling ideas.
Yet, we can all certainly agree that photorealistic and hyperrealistic art can be visually stunning. With that in mind, here is another gallery of hyperrealistic artists, many of which do offer visually stunning works of art.