… along with a dispassionate objectivity, there is also an intense sincerity.
… The underlying assumption of representational painting has been that the value of an image lies not in the thing itself but in the artist’s relationship to it. “What a painter inquires into,” Gombrich wrote in Art and Illusion, “is not the nature of the physical world, but the nature of our reaction to it.” The Photorealist is instead speaking to the nature of our visual and cultural perceptions of the world. But the very act of choosing a particular image to photograph and then paint is in itself a very telling response, an affirmation of both the thing itself and the artist’s relationship, however objective, to it.
… The mechanical nature of the camera enables them to achieve the impartiality they seek while at the same time imparting a compelling sense of immediacy. One of the many ironies of Photorealism is that the artists seek a directness in relation to the visually experienced world through the use of secondary source material, and that they achieve a heightened sense of reality by reproducing an illusion of an illusion.
John Salt, Catskill Cadillac, 1999
…It would seem that there is no longer any subject matter that would be considered unacceptable in art today, yet these paintings retain their ability to startle our sensibilities and rivet our attention. There are several factors at work here. One is certainly the masterful technique and the perfection of the rendering — the skill these artists display in creating a breathtaking semblance of reality.
[line break added] The ‘gee whiz’ factor, what Goings refers to as “hot dog painting.” Another is the slightly disconcerting combination of photographic and lifelike verisimilitude — the way these works look so real and so photographic at once. But ultimately it is the ability these artists have to reveal the fascinating in the familiar that compels us.
Where does the art lie? It lies in the artist’s mind and eye and hand.
… As we have seen, there are many ironies involved in the Photorealist’s use of the photograph: the fact that the painting when photographed resembles a photograph, the fact that the photographic look lends a documentary credibility even in an age of computer-altered photography, when we know that the camera can and often does lie; the fact that while the snapshot quality lends verisimilitude, the heightened hyperreal quality of the Photorealist painting seems more “real” than the photo. Nevertheless, the stance of the Photorealist painter is decidedly unironic, for along with a dispassionate objectivity, there is also an intense sincerity.
Photorealist paintings proclaim unequivocally the value of clear-eyed observation, of sustained effort, and above all of the act of painting itself. Revealing hidden beauty in even the most mundane aspects of the world around us, they open our eyes to wonder. Far from purveying cheap thrills for the masses in sleight-of-hand tricks (accusations hurled by disgruntled critics in the early years), the best of Photorealist paintings provide us with awe-inspiring beauty and cunning perceptions about our culture and our time.