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Photorealism is an art style where paintings and sculptures act as uncanny, "photorealistic" facsimiles of their subjects.

As a full-fledged art movement, photorealism sprang up in the late 1960s and early 1970s in America and Europe (where it was also commonly labeled superrealism) and was dominated by painters. The first generation of American photorealists includes such painters as Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, Robert Cottingham, Don Eddy, Ron Kleemann, Tom Blackwell, Charles Bell, Chuck Close, John Kac-ere, David Parrish, Robert Bechtle, Ralph Goings, Richard McLean, John Salt and Ben Schonzeit. Duane Hanson was a rare exception of a photorealistic sculptor, famous for his amazingly lifelike painted sculptures of average people, complete with simulated hair and real clothes. Often working independently of each other and with widely different starting points, photorealists often tackled mundane or familiar subjects in traditional art genres--landscapes (mostly urban rather than naturalistic), portraits, and still lifes.

Photorealists very consciously took their cues from photographic images, often working very systematically from photographic slide projections onto canvases and using techniques such as gridding to preserve accuracy. The photorealist style is tight and precisionistic, often with an emphasis on imagery that require a high level of technical prowess and virtuosity to simulate, such as reflections in specular surfaces and the geometric rigor of man-made environs.

20th century photorealism can be contrasted with the similarly literal, hyperrealistic style found in trompe l'oeil paintings of the 19th century. However, trompe l'oeil paintings tended to be carefully designed, very shallow-space still-lifes with illusionistic gimmicks such as objects seeming to lift slightly from the painting. The photorealism movement moved beyond this double-take illusionism to tackle deeper spatial representations (e.g. urban landscapes) and took on much more varied and dynamic subject matter.

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45