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An Introduction to Hyperrealism

Part Two of Magic, Fantasy and Hyperrealism in Art & Literature Trilogy

“One demonstration of the way photography became assimilated into the art world is the success of photorealist painting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is also called super-realism or hyper-realism and painters like Richard Estes, Denis Peterson, Audrey Flack, and Chuck Close often worked from photographic stills to create paintings that appeared to be photographs.” - Graham Thompson, associate professor at the University of Nottingham.

Richard Estes, Columbus Circle Looking North 2009, oil on canvas.

Hyperrealism is an art genre that resembles reality in an extraordinary context. The similarity is so conclusive that it earns the sub-titles of photorealism in painting and super realism in sculpture. The movement started in the 1970s, flourishing into a school of art and a new set of techniques to create photo realism that counter impressionism and abstract expressionism. It was regarded as an interdependent pop art genre for three decades until its academic recognition in the 2000s.

The School of Hyperrealism

In 1973, Galerie Isy Brachot, a Belgian art dealer, came up with the term hyperréalisme to define a new genre of art, inspired by the high resolution imagery of photo cameras. The title was used to introduce an exhibition in Brussels, showcasing the works of a handful of American artists including Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, and Richard McLean, along with European painters including Domenico Gnoli (Italy), Gerhard Richter (Germany), Konrad Klapheck (Germany). The term was instantly adapted for any painting that imitated reality as if it was a high resolution photograph.

In the 2000s, the understanding of the genre developed its own school, shedding light on aesthetic techniques and principles that create an illusion by enhancing reality and art works with photographic quality.

Denis Peterson is one of the first photorealists, known for perfecting a splinter art movement known as Figurative Expression and Post-Photorealism, off shooting from photorealism. The New Yorker artist had a focus on cultural icons with a unique touch; embedding alternative realities into contemporary life. Dust to Dust is one of the most revered art works from him, in a touching attempt to decipher the human condition in the modern world.

“In his work Dust to Dust, Peterson asserts a man of negligible social status who inhabits the lowest stratum of society is just as worthy of having his portrait painted as any titled individual or famous person and just as deserving of having his humanity recognized.” From Cave Painting to Street Art - 40,000 Years of Creativity, Rizzoli Publishing.

Dust to Dust - Denis Peterson (2006), acrylic and oil on canvas.

In the 21st century, hyperrealism moved from the literal construction approach found in the 20th century hyperrealism. Today, the photorealistic paintings and hyper sculptures use photographs as a reference, even-though go beyond to impose a narration; or an emotive sense and the voice of the artist at the time of creation. To bring such effects, the photorealistic painters and sculptors abstract or exaggerate specific details. For instance, Peterson used a diptych canvas in his Dust to Dust painting. This way, the viewer is forced to look down at the subject, which imposes a plebeian state of life through tangible lenses.

Style & Characteristics

The hyper realistic style is detail-oriented and subjective, with a strong reference to photography images with additional details to create a visual illusion that is often subtle. This category of artworks is used to create both decorative aesthetics and moralistic purposes with acute emphasis on the social and cultural details of everyday life. Given the nature of the genre, skill of execution imagery or figures that are photographically realistic plays a central role by using techniques that are mechanically sharp. Another characteristic of hyperrealistic paintings and sculptures is the exquisitely detail in order to dulcify the rational mind. This approach is far from the created illusion in surrealism; instead of blurring the differences between real and unreal, hyperrealism convinces the mind of an illusion of reality by creating simulated reality. However, shadow effects and textures are rather distinct from those in a photo.

Themes & Subjects

The focus of hyperrealism ranges from portraits, still life, urbanscape, landscape and figurative art in subjective and narrative depictions. Society, cultures and political emphasis are the key motifs in hyperrealism, often from a humanitarian perspective. The Australian sculptor, Ron Mueck, aims to dive deeper into the inner emotions and depict the critical stages of every human in various life cycles, by using hyperrealism- or better said, superrealism.

Ron Mueck, Mask II sculpture, 2001

On the other hand, hyper-realists who live in the totalitarian political systems use their art to narrate the deliberate hatred of the government for one or more groups in society, imposed by military, civil law enforcement and other government foundations. Gottfried Helnwein, the Austrian-Irish photorealist, focuses on political correctness and democracy, along with a scrutiny of sociological anxiety and historical issues that have a lingering effect on our modern world.

Gottfried Helnwein, Epiphany I (Adoration of the Magi) 1996, mixed media on canvas.

Latif Maulan, the malaysian artists, points out the social issues through landscape and figurative art, the direct addressing of the humans’ moral downfalls to rape, injustice, destitute, etc.

Latif Maulan, World Without Limits, 2016, oil on canvas.

Hyperreal paintings and sculptures are unique in recreating reality and giving form to the often overlooked and daily concerns of the modern human.

Image Source:

Denis Peterson onlline gallery, Dust to Dust

ResearchGate, Sculpture as deconstruction: The aesthetic practice of Ron Mueck

Photo Phore, “Gottfried Helnwein – Between Innocence and Evil” at MoCAB

Invaluable Auctions, Lot 160: Latif Maulan (b. Pahang, 1974) World Without Limits, 2016


CSUSB ScholarWorks, Hyper-Realism and Surrealism, California State University, San Bernardino, 2013

Hyperrealism (US Art eBook), Linda Chase, Rizzoli International Publication, Inc, American Edition Published 1975

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09 ต.ค. 2565

I interviewed Careole Feuerman @artbaselandbeyond on IG.

Author Photo

Pourandokht Mazaheri

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