Photorealism versus Classical realism

It sometimes happens that a visitor or critic calls me a photo realist. Because I do not completely agree with this, I have written an article a few years ago about my reservations. An Irish friend recently sent me some pictures of photorealistic paintings that really impressed him, mainly blow-up’s of portraits. Following this, I found and dusted off the article and now publish a brief English version of it on my weblog.

As a young artist I was very impressed by some American photo realists also. Mainly because they came from the same advertising and illustration background like me. However, as more and more I chose the path of classical realism, my reservations grew about this genre.

My main criticism is that these painters start from a picture and not a live example or model. So they already lose one dimension and a lot of information by starting from a two-dimensional image. Although enlarged, the artist blindly imitates the picture. Often he also copies the flaws of depth and reflections in the process. The painter captures emotionless and makes an exact copy … such as a camera does. Why not just enlarge the original photo?

"Apples and walnut oil pitcher", framed

The paintings often are huge blow-ups, a freckle is as big as a ping pong ball and the pupil of an eye the size of a football. This allows the artist to almost infinitely work on the details. If one looks at pictures of these paintings on screen or in a book, so again reduced, they seem terribly realistic.

As it is not easy to retain the correct proportions on this large scale and to precisely take over all details, these artists often use, if not always, projectors to create their drawing. To me, this feels a bit like cheating the lot.

It is not my intention here to condemn the photorealistic style. I just want to explain why I do not like that my paintings are being referred to as photorealism. Working from model often leaves a more poetic and personal approach than the hardness of a camera lens. It is classical realism, yes, but not an exact copy of reality. I want to illustrate this by the accompanying photos of both setups and paintings in my studio. In response to one of these photos a friend recently made ​​this remark:”You hit the philosophers with despair Stefaan, the image is more beautiful than reality”!

truffle jar setup


~ by Stefaan Eyckmans on October 3, 2013.

One Response to “Photorealism versus Classical realism”

  1. Hi Stefaan,
    I tend to agree with your opinion on photorealism. Working large scale does make it easier to get away with an error; eg when you are off 1cm on a sightsize portrait, the difference between model and painted subject will be huge, but when you are 1cm off on a 125cm x 125cm sized head, it will be a lot less noticable to the average viewer.

    A lot of hyperrealists also use a grid. Now there is nothing wrong with using a grid imho, but often they will paint their painting like they would knit a jumper, square by square from right to left and from top to bottom. This is a great exercise for students to teach them what patience is, but one doesn’t learn much of the technical aspects of painting by using this technique (I tried it).

    Your last picture shows it nicely that there is more to painting than merely copying what is in front of us.

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