On Photorealism

2 Feb

I recently told a friend that walking into the Plus One Gallery in London, one of the best places to view photorealist art, was like walking in somewhere and being given champagne and chocolates. It was the first thing that occurred to me when trying to sum up the feeling of being allowed to indulge in luxury – here, in my view, is a real feast for the eyes.

For me, photorealism is the greatest of all forms of modern art. As a child, I loved Pop Art, with its brash colours, boisterous attitude, and with its associations with pop music and culture. But it seems to me that it was, like a particular music scene, only associated with one period in time – the 60s. Of course, there are many artists who still have a pop feel to their work, but without it being tied to a particular time in history, it seems less relevant.

Without a lot of people realising, photorealism could, I think, become a major art form of this time. For anyone who has grown tired of the showmanship of so much conceptual art, or the indeterminacy of abstract painting, photorealism is an art form to cherish. And that phrase is important – it clearly is an art form, the painters involved in it paint what can clearly be described as works of art.

For so much of the time, in this indifferent consumer society, people have become incredibly lazy, choosing for their living rooms abstract pieces that “match the curtains”. It is sad to see Rothko adorning so many living room walls. But the irony here is that, when Rothko was painting, before abstract painting had taken a hold, this form of art would of course have been radical. It seems ridiculous that now, anyone who paints lifelike paintings is now going against the grain, and shunned by most of the art world.

The criticism you hear most often of most forms of lifelike painting, including photorealism, is that “anyone can do that”. It seems strange to me that people use this as a criticism of lifelike work, rather than for many forms of abstract painting. After all, to look at a lot of abstract painting, you might imagine someone of any age or ability could knock something like it up in a couple of hours. Don’t get me wrong, I do still have an appreciation of some abstract work – I like good use of colour, etc. but if I’m going to speak about an art form I love, it is photorealism.

To say that anyone can do this sort of work is completely missing the point. And also, probably means that the person saying this has never properly looked at such work. The workmanship that goes into such a work is phenomenal. Just take Tom Martin’s painting, “A Year’s Work” – I assume the title reflects the length of time taken over the piece. Yes, with training, people can become good draughtsman, ie. able to copy well, and get good likeness, etc. But the work of photorealists goes far beyond that. The detail is simply spectacular. Surely the point with anyone who is doing representative painting is to try to get a likeness – these guys take it to the nth degree by trying to get a perfect likeness.