Casey Baugh’s Photorealistic Portraits Conjure City Nights and Untold Stories

In our increasingly image-saturated, Instagram-filter-ridden visual culture, photorealistic art can almost seem like an obsolete pursuit. But New York-based artist Casey Baugh’s oil-and-charcoal paintings, mounted in “Nocturnus at New York’s Arcadia Contemporary, draw on photorealistic techniques that apply a manual filter to snapshot-like portraits, striking a balance between figuration and narrative.

Hovering somewhere between portrait and vignette, Baugh’s portraits work within the hyperreal constraints of photorealistic techniques to produce narratives centering on striking, seemingly perfect women and (sometimes) men in casual positions. In Baugh’s take on photorealism, hints of impressionism and realism meld to tell a story. A slightly blurred veneer, like one achieved through a camera lens, adds an extra layer of meaning to these portraits, which are often set in urban environments—city streets, bars, subway stations. 

Baugh’s works intermingle fantasy and realism, the latter of which is underscored by their photographic quality, which in turn is blunted by an implied sense of fiction. His figures are pictured leaning against a taxi, caught amidst a curbside smoke break, or lost in thought while waiting for the subway or nursing a late night cup of coffee in a diner. These subjects are aloof and detached, leaving any clues regarding what their thoughts might be, where they’re going, or who they are up to speculation.

In his paintings Baugh takes full advantage of the opacity of his subjects, infusing his portraits with subtle hints that engender speculation in his viewers. The clarity of reproduction makes them appear at once genuine, true-to-life portraits of real people, while also possessing a voyeuristic quality by virtue of the allusion to a lens that has captured and filtered a moment in an unwitting stranger’s life.

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell

Nocturnus” is on view at Arcadia Contemporary, New York, Dec. 10-Dec. 20, 2015.

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