10 Masters of Photorealism

“Every realistic picture represents a choice as to which features of reality should be given prominence; no painting ever captures the whole…” —Alain de Botton

Coined by Louis K. Meisel in 1969, photorealism usually refers to paintings made directly from photographic sources, most often with exquisite detail. Chuck Close was among its original practitioners, specializing in monumental-yet-precise portraits of himself, fellow artists, and other subjects. In the years since, artists have both continued the photorealist legacy and pushed its bounds; here are ten you should know!

1. Richard Estes: Considered a founder of the photorealist movement along with Close, Estes is best known for his paintings of New York street scenes, which he composes from multiple photographs. His trademark is the inclusion of reflective surfaces like storefronts and car windows, allowing his paintings to capture even more than meets the naked eye.

2. Robert Cottingham: Another founding photorealist, Cottingham is best known for his meticulous depictions of mid-20th-century signs and typefaces. Though exacting in detail, his paintings often border on abstraction with their radically cropped compositions.

3. Gerhard Richter: Though not formally associated with the movement, Richter is sometimes thought of as a photorealist for his paintings that reproduce photographic effects—most notably blurring. “I blur things so that they do not look artistic or craftsmanlike but technological, smooth, and perfect,” he has said.

4. Robert Longo: A member of the Pictures Generation (a group of artists who made appropriation the norm in the 1980s), Longo has largely built his fame on photorealistic renderings of mass imagery—from animals to nuclear explosions to paintings by other artists.

5. Ellen Altfest: Although she usually paints from life, Altfest’s obsessive attention to detail—whether painting the knobs of a gourd or the hairs on a penis—rivals the best of the photorealists.

6. Marc Quinn: Although perhaps best known for his monumental sculptures of contorted, floating, or pregnant human figures, Quinn also translates his YBA sensibility into photorealistic 2D works, like his series of floral close-ups or his grotesque (and enormous) renderings of raw meat.

7. Cheryl Kelley: In her sparkling paintings of classic American “muscle cars”, Kelley strips her subjects of their typically masculine associations, focusing instead on their sensuous curves and luscious surfaces.

8. Ben Weiner: Fusing two seemingly opposing practices—photorealism and abstraction—Weiner paints exquisitely detailed close-ups of consumer substances, including a 2011 series of radically magnified images of thickly impastoed paint.

9. Ester Curini: The animals in Curini’s lovingly detailed portraits seem ready to walk straight out of the frame. She isolates each subject on white backgrounds in order to more fully capture its (often-anthropomorphized) essence.

10. Taner Ceylan: One of Turkey’s most prominent artists, Ceylan makes hyperrealist paintings that “bespeak absolute technical mastery and precision,” says curator Dan Cameron, “but which are also freighted with an emotional and sexual dimension usually absent from the genre.”

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