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Also called “Photorealism”

The American figurative style of the 20 th century

Superrealism is a completely figurative style of art that was popular during the 1960's and 1970's mainly in the U.S. Themes were taken from the everyday world, snap moments of living, usually very focused and without a more general context for the viewer to understand them in. People and scenes were shown as realistically and objectively as possible, with no heroic pathos attached to them. The technique is characteristically flawless and smooth, executed in an attempt to emulate the images that result from photography. The age-old magic of presenting an image so like reality as to fool the eye has been a part of the art world since the days of the Renaissance. Intuitively, the viewers are bedazzled with an image that looks real, and intellectually they are left to wonder the full significance of the object in from of them.

Making art that is “realer than real”

The open spaces on the canvas are also smoothed out to a very fine polish; the spaces are unrealistically homogonous and clean, swept clear of the flaws that true reality is laden with. Having shown you a piece of reality, the artist then strips it of all that gives it its sense of realness in your eyes, and the end result in super-real, or hyper-real, it is meant to seem insane and illogical all of a sudden. The result is a distancing of the artists from the work; a sense of disassociation from the subject-matter. But unlike many of the artistic styles of these two decades, Superrealism doesn't attempt any real criticism of society. This is utterly incomparable to the “Social Realism” that sprang up in Russia , meant to serve as nothing more than socially ideological propaganda.

The painters of the Superrealist group

Among this style are the American painter Phillip Pearlstein, who painted portraits of ordinary people and Richard Estes, who based his work very loosely on photographs, using them more as a means to an end, rather than the goal to which his paintings should aspire to. He depicted street scenes, through store-front windows and in between the alleys and street corners. Chuck Close painted realistic close-ups pf peoples faces on huge canvases that spanned two or three meters high. He chose his models randomly, seeing any one particular face as an arbitrary variation of the human race and he used an air brush technique that gave his portraits a hyper-real appearance. Ralph Goings was also characteristically super-real.

The sculptors of the Superrealist group

The sculptors of this style created perfect replicas of everyday objects or people, using fiberglass coated and then air-sprayed in body-tones. In creating human figures, all the real elements were meticulously added on- real hair, clothes and jewelry. Duane Hanson is the most famous of these, and he depicts ordinary people, frozen in time and in the middle of movement, doing some everyday activity. Unlike most of the Superrealists, Hanson does not take an objective view on his subject matter. He depicts his figures with scathing irony; they symbolize the spiritual emptiness of the materialistic society around us. John De Andrea made naked, life-size human figures that look both real and startlingly alive, held impossibly still by some sense of magic. Among the non-American artists of this style are the Italian painter Michelangelo Pistoletto, who used photograph cut-outs for collages and then painted over them. There is also the French artist Jacque Monory and the English painter Malcolm Morley, who painted images taken from random photographic snapshots, more interested in the framing the photograph created, and in the surface colors that it showed, rather than in the subject matter that it captured.

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