Photorealism at BMAG


If your New Year’s Resolution includes taking in more culture, get yourself off to the marvellous Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting is on at the museum’s Gas Hall until March 30. It’s the first major large-scale retrospective in Europe devoted to Photorealism. Surveying the work of the major US artists considered to have developed the genre, including Charles Bell, Audrey Flack, Don Eddy, Chuck Close and Birmingham-born John Salt, the exhibition then charts Photorealism’s continuation with the second generation of painters, such Gus Heinze.

Not already au fait with the genre? Here’s the cheat sheet: in the late 1960s, a group of artists emerged in the US whose focus was the realistic depictions of everyday objects and scenes. Photography was used as a source for their paintings, with images of consumer goods, cars, motorcycles, diners and cityscapes – the clichés of American life – painstakingly reproduced to a much larger scale in oil and acrylic. This new technique of Photorealism was a means of objectively documenting the world, acutely distanced from the subjectivity of concurrent art movements such as abstract expressionism, Pop Art and minimal art.

This first group of Photorealists had its roots in the United States, taking the American way of life as subject. Transport is a running theme in this early period, with Ron Kleeman, Tom Blackwell and Ralph Goings portraying scenes of trucks, planes, motorcycles and cars. The seminal works Bride (1969) and White Chevy – Red Trailer (1975) by artist John Salt – himself raised in a family employed in car manufacturing – are included here. The great Chuck Close, meanwhile, became known for massive scale portraits, constructing faces through a complex grid-based reconstruction from photography.


The second generation of Photorealists, working in the 1980s and 1990s, built upon the work of those who had gone before them. The genre increasingly became more international and of particular interest to European artists, the work of Anthony Brunelli, for example, encompassing cityscapes of France, Switzerland and Italy as well as small-town America. The city itself now became the focus, with Bertrand Meniel capturing panoramic views of Miami Beach, New York City and other American cities, whilst the city street at dusk is the favoured theme of Robert Gniewek. Gus Heinze, meanwhile, varies his urban subjects with those of dilapidated farm equipment, locomotive engines and water pumps.


The era of digital photography inevitably impacted upon Photorealism, exemplified by the third – contemporary – generation of artists. Raphaella Spence photographs cities around the world from a helicopter using a 66-megapixel camera, then transferring images to canvas pixel by pixel, resulting in pin-sharp accuracy. Peter Maier, having worked for several years as a designer in the car industry, uses special automobile paint applied with a spray gun to high-tech aluminium in as many as twenty five layers. The results are images of highly polished car bodies with a three-dimensional character and deceptively real appearance.

For more information visit the BMAG website

Admission fees apply



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