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Hyperrealism: Art or a show of skill?

Developed as an independent art style/movement in the US and Europe in the 1970s, hyperrealism is a genre of painting and sculpture that bears strong resemblance to a high resolution photograph.  Often referred to as an advancement of photorealism (a genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing and other graphic media, in which an artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible), hyperrealism takes the conversation further.

The etymology of the art form can be traced to Belgian art dealer Isy Brachot who originated Hyperréalisme, as the title of a major exhibition and catalogue at his gallery in Brussels in 1973. The exhibition was dominated by photorealists like Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Don Eddy, Robert Bechtle and Richard McLean; but also included influential European artists such as Gnoli, Richter, Klapheck, and Delcol. Since then, hyperrealism has been used by European artists and dealers to apply to painters influenced by the photorealists.

With the evolution of technology came the evolution of this art form and thus began the question if hyperrealism is truly art or just a superb show of skill?

Art is seen as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. It is also perceived as a way of detaching from reality and so it means different things to the people who view it. In the case of the hyperrealism, the line between art and reality, some will argue has been completely erased.

Using the works of photorealists who aimed to reproduce photographs so that the human eye could not distinguish between the original and the resultant painting, hyperrealism took it further by making their work more literal and incorporating photographic limitations such as depth of field, perspective and focus. They developed ways of including narrative, charm and emotion into painting, not leaving it bereft of “personality”.  And this poses the problem how? Some will argue that because hyperrealist art creates a false reality, it requires a high level of skill and therefore becomes just a showmanship of skill.

The beauty of art is the constant evolution of meaning and its cause to evoke emotion from its viewer. Does hyperrealism really take away all the emotions the viewer might have? Or does the attention to detail make the artist a good one for the same skill that seeks to condemn him?

The question is posing a dilemma in the international art community and with the recent introduction to hyperrealism in Nigeria by artists such as Seyi Alabi, Raji Abdul-Gaffar Bamidele, Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu, Adefemi David, Ayo Filade, Kenechukwu Nwadiogbu, Alex Peter, Arinze Stanley, Isimi Taiwo and Oscar Ukonu who featured in the Insanity exhibition which was held last year at the Omenka Gallery last year, it begins to unfold in the Nigerian art community as well.


The hyperrealist leaves it to the viewer to determine the effectiveness of the art work. Looking at the works of these Nigerian artists, the ball is in your court on what their art means to you as hyperrealism seems to be a double-edged sword which condemns the artist in the same way that it celebrates him.

Then again, art is personal. Does it matter if the artist has displayed a layer of vision that should rather be unseen? Is it a crisis if  nothing has been left to the imagination? For a long time, anything could be labelled as art so long as the artist said so. There are art works which require little or no skill and have gone on to become masterpieces and celebrated as creative expression in recent times.  What makes the case of immense discipline, painstaking effort and great level of skill different?


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