Art Styles 101: Magical Realism Painting

Image of Robert Gonsalves’ limited edition print of Space Between the Words
Image of Robert Gonsalves’ limited edition print of Space Between the Words
Robert Gonsalves, As Above and So Below, Limited Edition Print at Marcus Ashley Gallery

Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait of her spine replaced with a broken column, Emily Bronte’s ghosts in an otherwise typical-English Wuthering Heights, Franz Kafka’s transformation of a man into vermin in Metamorphosis. All of these are magical realism, in which an uncanny hint of the supernatural is added to our familiar world to challenge the way we perceive reality.

In this article, we’ll explore the core concepts that define magical realism paintings and literature. We’ll explore the breathtaking artwork of Michael Parkes and Rob Gonsalves, whose artwork we are so fortunate to feature in our South Lake Tahoe gallery. We invite you to explore this incredible art genre with us and come away inspired.

What Does Magical Realism Mean?

Many art lovers conflate magical realism with the works of the 20th century Surrealists or 19th century pictorial Symbolists, general surrealism, fabulism, or pure fantasy. It’s important to note that while those artistic movements and methods may inform magical realist painters’ work, magical realism does not fit perfectly into these boxes. Magical realism paintings or literature do not address the inexpressible, immaterial psyche in the way surrealism does. They are not illustrations of history, legend, or myth like fabulism or symbolism. They are not purely fantastical or unreal like fantasy.

In short, magical realism must contain magical elements that transform a realistic setting.

Think of magical realism painting as the difference between low fantasy in literature. High fantasy is The Lord of the Rings — it does not take place on Earth. It has entirely new races, languages, histories, and magic. Nothing is familiar, and everything is a new invention.

Low fantasy is Harry Potter — it’s set in the real world, but there are magical elements that elevate, distort, and transform what we’re familiar with. Magical realism is low fantasy: it takes motifs and settings we recognize in reality and adds surreal, fantastical motifs. Some scholars use the term magical realism to mean low fantasy.

The Origins of Magical Realism Painting

How did magical realism painting first come to be? Most art movements have tenuous, debatable origins, but magical realism has definite sparks that ignited the movement.

Magical Realism has its roots in Germany and Italy in the early 1900s. The German term
“magischer realismus” was first coined 1925 by art critic Franz Roh in his book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus (After Expressionism: Magical Realism).

Franz Roh emphasizes in his book that magical realism paintings must contain these elements:

  • Realism’s accurate detail and photographic clarity
  • The magical nature of the real, normal world: how normal objects can sometimes take on fantastic appearances

As you can see, the second does not quite align with our previous definition. Like many art movements, it is subject to interpretation, and magical realism today has transformed beyond Roh’s original definition.

Roh’s book was soon translated into Spanish, which resulted in the magical realism movement catapulting in South America. This concept inspired authors and artists, including the famous author Gabriel García Márquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). This genre is still growing in popularity, both in art and literature.

Michael Parkes: Master Magical Realism Artist

The magical realism paintings of Michael Parkes both exemplify the genre and take it to a whole new level. Parkes’ artworks feature several recurring motifs inspired by his philosophical and mythological studies, including mermaids, angels, fairies, and mythical beasts like centaurs.

Parkes has also mastered the technical aspects of realism, and his still life paintings perfectly depict the world as we see it. This is an instrumental part of the genre: incorporating both real and fantasy elements with meticulous technical skill, and Michael Parkes accomplishes this perfectly.

Michael Parkes magical realism painting of a ballerina floating in the sky
Michael Parkes, Tuesday’s Child, Limited Edition Canvas at Marcus Ashley Gallery

Michael Parkes does not just produce magical realism paintings — he has also mastered the mediums of stone lithography, vellum sketches, and bronze casting. His artwork comes to life in three dimensions while retaining fantastical themes and evocative human and animal figures.

The magical realism painting As Above and So Below by artist Rob Gonsalves, showing a city made of cave stalagmites
Robert Gonsalves, As Above and So Below, Limited Edition Print at Marcus Ashley Gallery

Rob Gonsalves

Another renowned magical realism artist, Rob Gonsalves’ paintings were influenced by the paradoxical creations of René Magritte and M.C. Escher. While much of Gonsalves’ art has been deemed surrealism, he is classed as a magical realism painter for his consistent involvement of real, tangible human activities. 

Gonsalves included many tricks of the eye (trompe-l’oeil) in his artwork, much like M.C. Escher. His works encourage you to peer closer to see what’s real and what’s an illusion, bending your perception of reality. Gonsalves wanted to display the human desire to “believe the impossible” through his artwork. 

Gonsalves sadly passed away in 2017, and we are honored to keep his creative spirit alive by featuring some of his most magnificent works at Marcus Ashley Gallery.

Witness Magical Realism Paintings at Marcus Ashley Gallery

Our online gallery is an incredible way to get lost in magical realism paintings from the comfort of your home, but the experience of seeing these paintings in person is incomparable.

We invite you to come to our gallery in beautiful South Lake Tahoe to witness work from renowned magical realism artists. With our gallery services, you can also consider adding originals or limited editions to your personal collection.

From our family to yours, welcome to Marcus Ashley Gallery!