6 Masters of Photorealism Who Reproduce Intricate Details Using Only Paint


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As a counter to the Abstract Expressionist movement, Photorealism, aka Super-realism, evolved in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Taking photography as their inspiration, painters with astounding technical ability strived to recreate images (or several combined) in precise detail.

Rejecting idealism and abstraction, photorealists—past and present—often project photos onto their canvases to allow them to replicate them with precision and accuracy. These artists famously focus on capturing man-made environments and objects featuring reflective surfaces and architectural details. This allows them to truly show off their impressive technical prowess.

Here are six masters of the Photorealism movement you should know.


Richard Estes


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American artist Richard Estes is considered the founder of the Photorealism movement. He’s best known for his paintings of New York City scenes which feature jaw-dropping detail and gleaming, reflective surfaces. While they appear as direct copies of photographs, Este’s paintings are actually made using multiple images. The artist often moved certain elements in order to strengthen his compositions and better visualize the increasingly hi-tech, post-war age of New York from the 1970s to the present day.


Chuck Close


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American painter and photographer Chuck Close is best known for his massive-scale Photorealism portraits. Focusing mainly on self-portraits or portraits of his family and friends, Close constructs his images from multiple squares on canvas that each depicts their own section of the reference photo. This grid system allows the artist to make a kind of geographical survey of his subject’s face.

Close’s grid portraits are similar to the works of Pointillism artists, where the images better come into focus when the viewer stands back from them. “I discovered about 150 dots is the minimum number of dots to make a specific recognizable person,” he said of his technique. “A face is a road map of someone's life.”


Ralph Goings


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Ralph Goings was an American painter who captured the working-class lifestyle. Although he began his artistic career by experimenting with the painterly style of the Abstract Expressionist movement, he soon moved on to his distinct realism style. From classic cars and pickup trucks to hamburger stands and diners, he captures everyday American life with precise, hyper-realistic detail.

His polished paintings were sometimes criticized for lacking artistic expression, but this only spurred on the artist more. “It occurred to me that projecting and tracing the photograph instead of copying it freehand would be even more shocking,” said Goings. “To copy a photograph literally was considered a bad thing to do. It went against all of my art school training…some people were upset by what I was doing and said ‘it's not art, it can't possibly be art.’ That gave me encouragement in a perverse way, because I was delighted to be doing something that was really upsetting people… I was having a hell of a lot of fun.”


Charles Bell


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Working primarily in oil paint, American artist Charles Bell created large-scale still lifes inspired by toys and arcade games. He depicted vintage dolls, mechanical toys, Barbies, and action figures arranged as though they’re staged under harsh studio lighting. In other series, Bell painted marbles placed on reflective surfaces and silhouetted against dark backdrops. Using paint, he accentuated their curved shape and colorful, swirling patterns with incredible life-like detail.


Audrey Flack

Internationally acclaimed American painter and sculptor Audrey Flack is considered a pioneer of the Photorealism movement. She’s famous for her contemporary versions of still life paintings. She brings together everyday household items like tubes of lipstick, perfume bottles, playing cards, and fruit in order to capture femininity. Flack took her inspiration from the 17th-century Vanitas tradition, where still life is composed of objects that relate to the fleeting “vanities” of life.

“As the only woman artist in the groundbreaking Photorealist movement, I broke the unwritten code of acceptable subject matter,” Flack said. “Photorealists painted cars, motorcycles and empty street scenes. Cool, unemotional and banal were the terms used to describe the movement. My work, however, was humanist, emotional and filled with referential symbolic imagery.”


John Baeder

American painter John Baeder is considered one of the second-generation Photorealist artists. He has a background in advertising but left his office job in 1972 to pursue his artistic career full-time. His work includes oil paintings, watercolors, and photographs and can be found in permanent museum collections all over the world. He is perhaps most famous for his painted depictions of American roadside diners and eateries, but they are more than just hyperrealistic renders. His works document and memorialize a bygone era.

Baeder often tells stories of each establishment he visited. Speaking of his Highway Diner painting, he said, “When Dick Gutman and I first met in 1973, we exchanged much diner talk-and also pictures and other paraphernalia related to diners and the great American roadside. He had a photo of this diner. I couldn't bear seeing it so small and knew it had to be painted. It was a way of preserving the picture rather than the diner. It was at that point that I began to pursue the diner as subject matter.”

Related Articles:

The Evolution of Hyperrealism: From Religious Paintings to Simulated Reality

How the Groundbreaking Realism Movement Revolutionized Art History

13 Revolutionary Art Movements That Have Shaped Our Visual History

Chuck Close’s Unbelievable Fingerpainting Portrait

Emma Taggart

Emma Taggart is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Originally from Northern Ireland, she is an artist now based in Berlin. After graduating with a BA in Fashion and Textile Design in 2013, Emma decided to combine her love of art with her passion for writing. Emma has contributed to various art and culture publications, with an aim to promote and share the work of inspiring modern creatives. While she writes every day, she’s also devoted to her own creative outlet—Emma hand-draws illustrations and is currently learning 2D animation.
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