Realist or Photorealist?

Edouard Manet Olympia Musée d’Orsay

As part of studying for either a BA or MA in Fine Art, you are expected to do a lot of research. Research about other artists and the history of art and place yourself within that context. For me this proved a little difficult as I haven’t, as yet, found anyone else who paints bras the way I do. In the history of art, lingerie is most often portrayed on a woman’s body. It hasn’t been used as a still life subject on it’s own. So it became necessary for me to look at other areas of research. In my BA, I researched the history of the bra, though I never wrote a blog post about it. I won’t bore you with all the details, suffice to say that bra design really hasn’t changed much over the years. Though Mary Phelps Jacob (aka Caresse Crosby) is credited as the inventor of the modern bra, her design in 1913 was merely two silk handkerchiefs tied together with ribbon. Her design became the forerunner of what would later be known as the ‘backless brassiere’ and the word bra was born.


Mary Phelps Jacob’s original patent.

When it comes to the style of work that I place myself in it gets a little tricky. Am I a realist painter or a photo-realist? I have always placed myself as a photo-realist, as I received many comments about my bra paintings, about how they looked like photographs, and this made me wonder if I was a photo-realist painter rather than just a realist. After all, I often work from photographs and strive to be as accurate as possible. However, after doing some research into realism and photo-realism I learnt there are certain differences between the two. The definition of photo-realism is art that is rendered in an extremely realistic way with the artist working from a photograph. I often work from photographs and so I thought that placed me firmly in the photo-realism camp. The definition of realism is to produce art in an honest and frank manner, warts and all but still maintaining a painterly style that could identify the artist. Although my work is very photo-realistic, I do not copy everything I see, whether working from a photograph or from life. Although I strive to be as accurate as possible, I do often change the colours or omit certain things in order to make a more pleasing aesthetic. I do not want to reproduce a photograph, I found that my work became clinical and lifeless when I tried to do that and I do not wish to be remembered as the artist who was just accurate at copying.

Realism, sometimes called naturalism, was an art movement that began in 19th century France. The term was coined by the French novelist Champfleury in the 1840s. The movement was led by Gustave Courbet who was known for his paintings of peasants and working-class life. One of his most well known paintings was The Stonebreakers. Edouard Manet was also known as a realist painter. The Realism movement was about rejecting the romanticised, academic theory of History painting and High Art in favour of creating paintings of ordinary peasant folk and working life without filtering out the brutality and sexually explicit way of real life.

The Stonebreakers, 1849, Oil on canvas, 165 x 257 cm

In 1965 Malcolm Morley pioneered the art movement called Superrealism. The movement has since also become known as Hyperrealism. Photorealism is considered the non-emotional version of this movement. Photorealists deliberately distance themselves from including any emotion or intent into their work.

Charles Bell Gum Ball No. 10 “Sugar Daddy” Guggenheim Museum

I don’t want to remove the emotion from my work. If anything, I want put more emotion into it. I have plans to do just that in future work. You can read more about that in a blog post soon.

Gustave Courbet said “painting is essentially a concrete art and must be applied to real and existing things”. I like to consider that my art fits that bill so I can happily say now that I am a realist painter.

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