The History of Realistic and Hyperrealistic Art

Another Round hyperrealistic art by Eric Christensen

Hyperrealism is a relatively new form of art. It describes artwork that looks incredibly lifelike and is often mistaken for the real thing. At a distance, it’s easy to confuse a hyperrealistic painting or sculpture for an actual photograph or object. This is quite deliberate. Artists create an illusion of reality by using special techniques to create their artwork. As a genre, Hyperrealism is distinct from Photorealism and Realism, although it evolved from them. To understand the history of the hyperrealistic art movement, it’s worth taking a look at the history of its precursors.

Realism and Photorealism

Realism was born in the mid-19th century in post-revolutionary France. Until then, the art world was dominated by styles like Romanticism and Late Baroque, which were all about idealistic portrayals of the world. Their subjects were often borrowed from myth and theology and were showcased in imaginary, dramatic settings. It was akin to artistic escapism.

Realism artists rejected these notions and sought to create art that was grounded in reality. Painters like Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet exemplified this style. They painted scenes that depicted working-class themes and common folk. It was authentic art that showed the world for what it was, without dressing it up or avoiding unpleasantness.

Photorealism emerged in the late 1960s in the U.S. It built on the Realism movement and the popularity of photography. Photorealists would take a photo and attempt to reproduce it exactly with paint on canvas. Their subjects were often pop-culture objects and urban American settings. Richard Estes and Chuck Close were some of the first Photorealist artists and indeed went on to pioneer Hyperrealism artwork later on.

Evolution of Hyperrealistic Art

Unlike Photorealist artists, Hyperrealists don’t seek to copy their subjects exactly. Rather, they use their photographs only as a reference point and go on to add elements and themes that appeal to them. Broadly speaking, Photorealists dispassionately and accurately reproduce what they see. Hyperrealists deliberately infuse their creations with emotion and narrative to evoke greater meaning. By adding context and complexity, they hope to make their artwork come across as natural and indistinguishable from the reference material.

Hyperrealistic art first began to gain a following in the 1970s. The movement was recognized internationally when it participated in the 1972 edition of documenta, the Modern and Contemporary Art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. The term ‘Hyperrealism’ was coined a year later by Isy Brachot, a Belgian art dealer. In 1973, he hosted an exhibition which featured the work of several prominent American Photorealists. He called it L’hyperréalisme.

However, despite its roots, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Hyperrealism evolved into the independent art form it is today. Modern Hyperrealism combines traditional artistry with newfound techniques by leveraging advances in technology.

Hyperrealism Artwork: Tools and Techniques

By definition, hyperrealistic art imitates reality — not necessarily in the details of what the actual object looks like, but rather in its ability to make the viewer believe it’s a real object or photograph. For instance, if the reference photograph shows a person with an impassive expression, the artist may choose to add a grin or a wink to the painting. However, the objective is to make you believe they’re both real photographs.

This requires a great deal of technical prowess and dedication to achieve. It also creates new opportunities for experimentation and artistic application. Hyperrealistic art can incorporate photographic limitations like perspective, depth of focus, and range of focus. Artists even go so far as to accentuate photographic anomalies, such as fractalization, in their artwork in order to emphasize its digital origins.

In this sense, the subject of Hyperrealism artwork isn’t just the image in the photograph, but the photograph itself. It’s tendencies like these that define Hyperrealism as a distinct and mature genre.

Hyperrealist artists employ the same art tools that have been in use for centuries, including paint, ink, charcoal, graphite, clay, marble, and so on. However, they make some allowances for mechanically transferring the images to the canvas or mold to simulate reality. Aids like grayscale underpainting, grid tools, and photographic slide projections onto canvas are common. Hyperrealistic art sculptors will often apply polyesters directly onto the human body or mold for greater fidelity.

Modern technology has its part to play too. Digital art, created with the help of special software and gear, is a popular way to create hyperrealist sketches and paintings. Working digitally, the artist can incorporate effects and elements into the art that would be impossible to capture with photography.

Modern Exponents of Hyperrealistic Art

Hyperrealism artwork can have a variety of subject matters, ranging from portraits to still lifes, landscapes, figurative art, and more. Each artist will often develop a niche that intrigues them. Marcus Ashley Gallery hosts a wide selection of artwork from modern masters of Realism and Hyperrealism.

Eric Christensen

Eric Christensen is a watercolor Hyperrealist. In fact, he’s the only known artist able to produce hyperrealistic art through standard transparent watercolors. His muse is the California wine country. He creates incredibly vibrant and lifelike landscapes and still lifes around this theme. He does this using a patented watercolor technique that allows him to transcend the look and feel of a high-definition photograph.

Many of his works are based on real locations. He spends a lot of time extensively photographing his subjects before he gets down to recreating them in paint. Each painting takes months to complete. Christensen releases only four or five originals every year.

Shades of Summer hyperrealistic art by Eric Christensen
Shades of Summer by Eric Christensen

John-Mark Gleadow

John-Mark Gleadow’s paintings look like something straight out of a bibliophile’s Instagram. His paintings typically show a series of books stacked together on a shelf. You’re drawn in by the book titles in what you think is a photo, until you spot something off about it. You realize that while the image appears to be a photograph in every sense, it couldn’t possibly be one.

Gleadow’s hyperrealistic art is created using oil on canvas. He prefers oils because of their richness and permanence. Gleadow enjoyed success as an artist quite early in life and his work is well recognized worldwide. His influences include Salvador Dali, Vermeer, and Rene Magritte.

Bibliotheque III Hyperrealism artwork by John-Mark-Gleadow
Bibliotheque III by John-Mark Gleadow

Alexander Volkov

Alexander Volkov’s still-life and landscape paintings are some of the most captivating images of rural America you’re likely to come across. His realistic and hyperrealistic art is loved internationally for the beautiful interplay of light that characterizes each piece. He skilfully uses lighting to create mood and infuse narrative into his artwork. A Volkov original tends to draw you in and make you lose track of time as you’re appreciating it.

Volkov is self-taught, but only in the conventional sense. He believes that there is learning and inspiration all around you if you’re willing to pay attention to it. Some of his early influences include Vermeer, Rembrandt, and William Turner. He has recently forayed into the world of sculpture as well.

Aspen Sunset by Alexander Volkov
Aspen Sunset by Alexander Volkov

Explore Hyperrealistic Art at Marcus Ashley Gallery

If you’re fascinated by this art style, learn more about it at Marcus Ashley Gallery. Our expert art consultants will be delighted to introduce you to some modern Hyperrealism artwork maestros and give you an insight into their process.

Explore all the art services our gallery offers, including custom framing, home previews, and affordable financing. Get fully insured international shipments of your hyperrealistic art and free shipping in the continental U.S.