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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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