Hyperrealism: Art of Mimicry?

Some say that art imitates life but what if art becomes too lifelike that it is visually very difficult to distinguish from a photograph of the real thing? Well, we are now talking about hyperrealism. It is a genre in visual arts – painting and sculpture – that is primarily focused on creating artworks that are very realistic. These artworks oftentimes resemble high-resolution photographs in the case of paintings and drawings or they resemble actual objects, people and animals in the case of sculptures. Hyperrealism developed from photorealism, which is simply the mimicry of photographs using paint and other media. Hyperrealism is an advancement of photorealism.

Hyperrealism is part of an independent art style and art movement that started in the United States and Europe during the early part of the 1970s. It has evolved since then and many visuals artists built their careers as hyperrealist artists. Some of contemporary hyperrealist artists have large installation exhibits like the giant sculptures of Ron Mueck and Evan Penny. Their works are impressive but also a bit creepy considering the details involved. For instance, the newborn baby sculpture of Mueck is complete with some bloody details. Penny’s works, on the other hand, mostly depict naked old people in various posts and facial expressions.

Historically speaking, the origin of hyperrealism can be traced to the Belgian art dealer, Isy Brachot, who in 1973 coined the French word Hyperréalisme. He used the word as the title for an art exhibit at his gallery in Brussels. The said art exhibit was dominated by American photorealist artists such as Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Robert Bechtle and Richard McLean. There were also several influential European artists who participated in the exhibit, which included Gnoli, Richter, Klapheck and Delcol. Since then, the term hyperrealism stuck and was used by European artists and art dealers when referring to painters and other visual artists who were influenced by photorealist artists.

What then is the main difference of hyperrealism as distinguished from photorealism as an art form? Is it mere mimicry? Well, the main difference is that hyperrealism is more of a narrative rather than a simple mimicry. Unlike photorealist artists, the hyperrealist artists do not simply study and copy photographic details in their works but also they also try to project emotions and stories in their arts. Hyperrealists use various media, which include drawing, painting and sculpting and they depict other details that are either not normally visible in real objects/subjects or something that do not exist in reality.

Hyperrealist artworks also strive to provide social commentaries instead of simply being mechanical or objective. For instance, there are giant hyperrealist sculptures that depict birth and violence. Hyperrealist artists are not contented of merely showing the mundane details but they focus more on providing insights about the seemingly mundane objects or subjects. Most are still based on photographs but the hyperrealist works also include shadows, light effects and textures that may sometimes border the surreal. The introduction of high-resolution digital photography made it possible for hyperrealist artists to experiment on various details that could not be depicted by analog photography, which was the basis of photorealist artists.