Wikis > Photorealism
Self-Portrait 2000-2001 photorealistic artwork by Chuck Close

Self-Portrait 2000-2001

Era Late 1960s, 1970s
Known Names Super-Realism New Realism Sharp Focus Realism Hyper Realism
Influencers Ralph Goings

(Top Image: “Marbles XII” by Charles Bell)

Photorealism is an art movement in which artists duplicate photographs on canvases. Either one or more photographs may be used for information gathering. The movement became popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Photorealist artists base their artwork on photographs, making it look as true to the photo as possible. Photorealism, otherwise known as Super-Realism, is an art movement that was popularized in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement was a rise against Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism, which involved a spontaneous use of paints and no preplanning of what the work would look like. Photorealists also tried to set themselves apart from American Realists. Photorealism art requires meticulous planning and dedicated replication of the original photograph. Photorealists typically portray common, everyday objects or scenery and commercial or advertising imagery in their work, and they express a nostalgic bent. Photorealism art is a spinoff of the Pop Art movement, which also revolves around commercial life and everyday scenes. Whereas Pop Artists expressed the absurdity of the images their artwork portrayed, though, Photorealists sought to exalt the images. John Baeder’s diner paintings, such as Mozella’s Diner and Scott’s Bridge Diner, and Charles Bell’s Gumballs II are examples of typical Super-Realism. Photorealist painters normally hand paint or use an airbrush in their works, which tend to be very large. In order to resemble actual photographs, the finished work must have a smooth surface free of visible brushwork. Ralph Goings demonstrates the use of painting and finishing with airbrushing in Airstream(1970), Paul’s Corner Cushion(1970) and Donut(1995). Artists employ various techniques to achieve the final look of a photograph. For instance, Audrey Flack used slides of images projected onto the canvases to be painted, as seen in Crayola(1972 and 1973) and Wheel of Fortune(1977 and 1978). Artist Chuck Close used a pencil grid for scale and sketched pictures of his friends with an airbrush. The first of his works were black-and-white pieces, such as Frank(1969) and Big Self Portrait(1967 and 1968). He began using color in 1970. Louis K. Meisel coined the term Photorealism in 1969, and it was first printed for the show Twenty-Two Realists in a Whitney Museum catalogue in 1970. Other less-used terms are New Realism, Sharp Focus Realism and Hyper Realism. Some argue these are actually offshoots of the original and that a true Photorealist portrait makes the viewer aware that it is a painting and not a photograph. Two years after Meisel named the movement, he was asked to define it by Stuart M. Speiser. Speiser had accumulated a large collection, which was later named Photo-Realism 1973: The Stuart M. Speiser Collectionfor a traveling show. The collection was given to the Smithsonian in 1978, and the Smithsonian features the collection in several of its museums. According to Meisel’s definition, five conditions must be met: A photo and a camera are used to gather information. The information is transferred to a canvas by use of a mechanical or semimechanical means. Through technical ability, the finished work must appear to be a photograph. The work must have been exhibited by a Photorealist by 1972. The Photorealist had to devote at least five years to this type of art.


  • Young Shopper, Duane Hanson, 1973
  • Supreme Hardware, Richard Estes, 1974
  • Self-Portrait Chuck Close, Chuck Thomas Close, 1977
  • ’61 Pontiac FAME, Robert Bechtle, 1968 and 1969
  • Macarena Esperanza, Audrey Flack, 1971

Fun Facts

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Some Examples of Photorealism Artwork

Tomato Catsup photorealistic artwork by Ralph Goings

Tomato Catsup

Paris Street Scene photorealistic artwork by Richard Estes

Paris Street Scene

Purple Harley photorealistic artwork by Tom Blackwell

Purple Harley