I’m sure I have mentioned before that I discovered realism, and its affiliated -isms photorealism and hyperrealism, when I was a teenager. I became infatuated with the work of Michael English, who worked mostly with acrylic, brushes and airbrush to produce some of the earliest and most extraordinary and beautiful hyperrealist paintings.
Michael English, No deposit, no return. 1975
Perhaps I should try to define what makes a photo- or hyper-realist painting. There are many definitions, some technical, others more general. For our purposes here, I would take the general difference being that a photorealist painting might initially convince viewers into thinking it was a photograph. Hyperrealist paintings really take that photorealist image of the subject and either place it in space or in an alien setting. The painting may also heighten some aspects of the subject or have an emotional, social or political message.
Once I decided to paint full-time, I tried to follow Michael English’s lead. I painted with acrylics (I always had problems with oils anyway!) and taught myself to use an airbrush. I painted portraits and cityscapes, led partly by a wish to paint those closest to me and also by my interest in buildings, but mostly because both allowed me to paint how light moves - through glass, water and eyes and off skin. In my view, it is what light does to a subject which gives it its life in an image. Painting something which is so true to life, whilst having all those hours and hours of personal viewing, introspection and translation makes it a very personal photorealism. Again, at first glance it may look very like the person or the scene, but look closer and you will see all the hundreds and hundreds of strokes of the brush, the airbrush, the scalpel or the eraser. So, although many artists and collectors see the ultimate in photorealism as an identical representation of a photograph, I believe there should be imperfections and insights which help bring it to life and leave a little of the artist’s interpretation in there. Of course, this may be because I just don’t have the extraordinary patience which many of those artists do!
Jonny Church, Lily 2015 (and detail, showing strokes, stipples and scratches).
When I started painting the travel paintings it was necessary to paint in a much more simple style, emphasising colour and form over minute detail. However, with the more recent architectural series, I think I have managed to marry the two styles together, producing paintings which look photographic from a distance, but show the workings close up. My love for photorealism goes on.
Jonny Church, The Guggenheim Museum, New York 2020