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.

Art Dissertation

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.

Chapter 1 – where did it start?

 Isy Bacharot first used the expression ‘Hyperr√©alisme’ 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 Bechtle.
   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’

Chapter 2 – how has the movement grown?

   As mentioned in the chapter before Isy Brachot was the first to use the term ‘Hyperr√©alisme’ 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.
Considering 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. 

Chapter 3- who influenced the development

The 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 3D.

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.

Denis 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.

Chapter 4- what inspires these artists?

I 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 to work?
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.
Alison 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 of Hyperrealism.”

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.

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