Photorealism

The 1960s was full of controversy in the art world. Minimalism and Pop Art paved the way for Photorealism by challenging people to consider pieces like Kasimir Malevitch’s “Black Cross” (1915) as true art. Some have described Photorealism as a reaction to Minimalism. In 1992, Vivien Raynor wrote in the “New York Times” that Photorealism “came out of Pop yet had the affectlessness of Minimalism and, at the same time, capitalized on the public’s fondness for exact replication.”



Photorealists began with the camera as a device for recording the naked truth of their subject matter on film. Then they used a technical, if not scientific, methodology for painting the image captured on film. Observers could then react to the pure truth produced in the systematic process. Thomas Albright, an art critic for the “San Francisco Chronicle,” once said that “intervention between the painting and objects served to neutralize the original subject of the picture.”

This art movement continued into the 1970s at its peak, and some artists continued the approach for the next few decades. Photorealism was international, not just limited to American artists. The leader of Photorealism in the 1960s was Richard Estes (b. 1932). He graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1956 and relocated to the art world in New York City. Estes would always use the camera to create images that would be useful for his representational paintings.

Early on, Estes specialized in urban landscapes and had solo exhibitions with this title. Later, he turned to European subjects and sea landscapes. In 1967’s “Figures in Cafeteria,” Estes reflected the influence of Impressionism in the artistic rendering of indoor light and the clothing details of the cafeteria diners. The total effect is a moment captured in time with a reassuring sense of motion.

Some art historians describe New Image painting in conjunction with Photorealism, but painters were already creating representational paintings from press clippings and other sources before the Photorealists in the late 1960s (Honour and Fleming, 2005). In the 1960s and 1970s, artists succeeded in forever altering conceptions of art through new imagery.

Another Realist, Ralph Goings, was so taken with Realism and Photorealism since the 1960s that he continued to produce paintings for forty more years. Born in 1928, Goings received art training at the California College of Arts and Crafts (BFA, 1953) and Sacramento State College (MFA, 1965). Art lovers can still access his contemporary website (as of 2009). One of his early works was called “McDonalds Pickup, 1970.” A truck from the 1960s is pictured in front of a local McDonalds eatery. This restaurant chain had taken root in American popular culture in the 1950s.

Photorealists like Estes and Goings continued to focus on Realism and used other media to create representational images, including pen and ink, pastels, and prints, in the 1980s and beyond.