Photorealism: Definition & Artists

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Photorealism was an American art trend that happened in the 1960s and 1970s. In this lesson, we will learn about the movement and the artists that made the movement popular.

What Is Photorealism?

Photorealism takes a photo and turns it into a painting or drawing on canvas

What if you could look at a photo and reproduce it as a drawing or painting? Well, that's exactly what photorealism was all about. Photorealism was an American art movement in which artists attempted to recreate the image in a photo using a different artistic medium such as drawing, pastels, painting, charcoal, etc.

The primary goal of a photorealist was to capture the essence of the photo on canvas. To do so, the artist would develop the photo, transfer it to a canvas, and bring it back to life using a different medium. Minimalism, while not a required factor in photorealistic work, is a primary tenet of the style. Ultimately, this meant that the image was clean and without clutter.

Photorealism came to life in 1960s through the 1970s in America as an opposing force to Abstract Expressionism. In its opposition, photorealism aligned itself with Pop Art, and both fields of art worked with photography in mind.

Major Photorealist Artists

Now that we know that photorealism is, let's look at some of the artists that powered the movement.

Audrey Flack

Audrey Flack is a prominent female artist who rose to fame during the photorealist movement. She hails from New York and holds a prestigious B.F.A. from Yale. Many call her the 'mother of photorealism', and she is credited for leading the movement.

Flack's paintings are usually of everyday objects like fruit, women's toiletries, flowers, and knick-knacks. The most prominent feature of her work is that the canvas is filled with objects, giving it an odd look. Royal Flush is one of those famous pieces, which was completed in 1977. The painting is of a poker card table overloaded with a cigar, cigarettes, money, drinks, and a Royal Flush using the red heart cards.

As of 2017, many of her paintings are being displayed by major museums such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and MOMA.

John Baeder

If you've ever seen one of those roadside diner paintings before, it's likely that you were looking at a John Baeder painting. John Baeder is an American painter from Indiana who exhibited his artwork throughout the 1970s. Baeder began painting roadside diners after the many road trips he took while attending Auburn University in Alabama.

His best work includes John's Diner with John's Chevelle, Red Robin Diner, Salem Diner. He painted several versions of McDonald's as well. Baeder works with several mediums including oils, watercolors, and acrylic.

For example, his painting John's Diner with John's Chevelle was made with oil paints and features a little old diner and vintage car. Several galleries, including New York's OK Harris Gallery and Nashville's Cumberland Gallery exhibited his work.

Ralph Goings

Much like John Baeder, Ralph Goings had a thing for diners when he was a part of the photorealist movement. Ralph Goings is a California-born painter who fell in love with art at a young age. He began by drawing, but switched over to painting in his teenage years.

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