"When You Realize What You Are Looking At You Will Be Blown Away"
April 13, 2014 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Twenty Seven pieces of artwork that defy comprehension; not because of the quality of work, which is amazing, but for the quality of work performed in the mediums used. posted by quin (50 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
These are amazing. And I love that they included links to the artists' own websites so I can explore further...which I am. Great post.
posted by cribcage at 6:51 PM on April 13, 2014

Photorealism on that level is always brain-bending.
posted by xingcat at 7:05 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

“Bujnowski painted a photo-realistic self-portrait in black and white, had it photographed and enclosed the picture as his official photo in the U.S.A. visa application form. The consulate workers failed to notice the manipulation and, eventually, the artist received a passport with a replica of his own painting.”

posted by redsparkler at 7:09 PM on April 13, 2014 [17 favorites]

I am continuously amazed and impressed how some people can paint/draw reflective surfaces (water, glass, plastic, etc) realistically. I never tire of it.

Also, I choose to believe that the last picture is the photo-realistic image of Malory Archer.
posted by littlesq at 7:25 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

What I like most about number 15 is that when I saw it, my first thought was "POVRay raytracing render...".
posted by Jimbob at 7:50 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's interesting how so many of these artists choose such mundane subjects. It really lets you focus on the technique.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:06 PM on April 13, 2014

So Impressive. All of them. But my favorite was Reality on Turtles.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:11 PM on April 13, 2014

These pieces are all really well-executed photorealistic paintings and drawings that demonstrate exceptional skill. I'm not so sure they all demonstrate conceptual strength, though (but some, like Mueck's and Weiner's, are solid on both counts).

To me, the strongest contemporary photorealistic pieces are those that employ illusionism whilst also creating an image or experience that couldn't be captured by a camera. If it's just a skillfully loyal representation of an actual photograph, then it's a great exercise and all, but that exploration has already been done before (Chuck Close's early work being a formative example) so it isn't a fresh concept, and at some point the viewer has to ask: why not just display the photo? Why not make paintings that serve in ways photos cannot instead of making paintings that are indistinguishable from photographs?

Or at least that's the thought process that has led me away from continuing to make pieces people mistook for photos. What started off as flattering (people's mistaken assumption turned to shock and praise) soured as I realized with that very early body of work that I was not challenging/interesting myself or the viewer enough.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:13 PM on April 13, 2014 [50 favorites]

Part of this has to do with scale - and by removing the experience of scale that the artist has chosen, sites like these remove an important aspect of the pieces themselves. They are very impressive, but like any digital artist knows, you can hide a lot in sizing down. In cases like this, it's not that in person you would see tons of flaws that would ruin the experience, it's that you'd be able to actually appreciate the pieces as impressive as they actually are.
posted by Mizu at 8:14 PM on April 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

What's wrong with just taking a photograph?
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:15 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of photorealism in an age of photos is impressive mostly in the way seeing a man juggle 9 pins is impressive.
posted by srt19170 at 8:15 PM on April 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

This fantastic. I caught Ron Mueck at the Brooklyn Museum several years ago and the work was simply uncanny: individual hairs, pale mottles and veins and freckles. The pinkness in hands. Just thrilling to look at and walk between.
posted by mochapickle at 8:17 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of photorealism in an age of photos is impressive mostly in the way seeing a man juggle 9 pins is impressive.

You mean impressive in that they are both awesome things I would like to see? I understand you mean that the practical utility is low but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:18 PM on April 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also I just looked up a video of a guy juggling nine sticks (apparently a world record) and it is effing sweet so thank you!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:20 PM on April 13, 2014 [12 favorites]

It's interesting how the invention of photography liberated painting initially. I wonder whether these throwbacks to hyper-realism continue to impress us because photos themselves have become so vibrant, detailed, high resolution, etc.
posted by ageispolis at 8:39 PM on April 13, 2014

What's wrong with just taking a photograph?

I mean if the only point of art is to show you what a thing looks like,
posted by shakespeherian at 8:50 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would like to roll a saving throw, please.
posted by oneironaut at 9:00 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Superrealism is interesting, and the technique is astoundingly good here, but I'm with Vegartanipla. Hyperrealist work should show you something beyond what a camera can show. Otherwise it's just a display of skill, like all other trompe l'oie, and good art can be more than that.
posted by jrochest at 9:02 PM on April 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

I like these quite a bit, but art I like best is not quite so polished or literal.
posted by edgeways at 9:15 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is Gottfried Helnwein painting with sunglasses on?

Because that seems like kind of a weird thing.
posted by crumbly at 9:19 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is Gottfried Helnwein painting with sunglasses on?

Because that seems like kind of a weird thing.

That's probably just to cover up the forks in his eyes.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 9:45 PM on April 13, 2014

For most of them I was impressed (as the page's title instructed me to be) with the technical skill but not with the art, what was called "conceptual strength" above. And as Mizu noted, these are all reduced to the same size, so we are missing entirely what it would be like to stand in front of them in a gallery.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:48 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, while Robert Longo's drawing's are great, THIS is what I will always remember him for. Pure greatness.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 9:49 PM on April 13, 2014

Hyperrealist work should show you something beyond what a camera can show

yea, that's how I feel too - and when I have seen that done, it's really mind bending. If you ever get a chance to see the work of Evan Penny in person, do it, his work is amazing. He does incredibly detailed portraits, but will skew the dimensions, so for example a head will be a foot wide, but 6 feet tall. The skin looks like real skin, there are wrinkles and freckles, and real hair, so your brain recognizes it as human, but the proportions are so far out there that it's hard for you to fit it into your reality. I actually felt a bit dizzy the first time I saw one!

Photos don't really capture the experience
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:59 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Doesn't some of it depend on whether you consider the human labor and skill involved part of the art? For example, a 10 foot long straight line isn't particularly impressive in this day and age if you assume it was printed by a machine, but the same line drawn freehand is very impressive.
posted by maxwelton at 10:14 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, these are incredible. I can't believe how realistic they are. In this day and age of everyone having a million perfect photos because digital space is cheap, seeing this sort of work really takes me by surprise. I can't even draw stick figures.

But the headline had me expecting to see art using, say, Crayolas or kindergarten paint or Das or maybe the juice of a watermelon of something. So I feel somewhat disappointed by this amazing art.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:24 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by homunculus at 10:39 PM on April 13, 2014

Still trying to wrap my head around the paintings of paint.
posted by mantecol at 11:38 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Alyssa Monks is the artist on there most interesting technically because her paintings achieve photorealism of people seen through wet or steaming glass, but the marks very quickly dissolve into paint marks. A lot of photorealism is accomplished just by scaling up and working small, so that looking closely yields the same photorealism but at a scale where it's easy to be photorealist because it's a small surface or a corner or a button; if you achieve photorealism at that scale, all it takes is patience to work larger.

But details of Monks paintings show... nonsense. Nothing like drips of water. They look like Pollacks up close. But step back and it looks hyperreal. The visual effect is like those images that were all the rage in the 90s where it looked like static but if you crossed your eyes just so... That transition from abstract marks to hyperrealism is astonishing in Monks' painting, moreso because she's working at typical sizes, not giant wall-coverings.
posted by fatbird at 11:59 PM on April 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Still trying to wrap my head around the paintings of paint.

Itself a good visualization of my mind being blown when I got to those images.
posted by polymodus at 12:34 AM on April 14, 2014

I knew a guy who could do photorealistic drawings of pretty much any picture you placed in front of him. He definitely wasn't an "artist" though. Without that reference, he couldn't draw worth a lick. Interestingly he also couldn't draw from real-life models. Just pictures. More so, he had pretty much zero creative impulse. He was basically just a human xerox machine.

100% technique, 0%inspiration.

This is a collection of interesting techniques, without much thought for inspiration. I've seen the Mueck sculptures in person, and the technique, as amazing at it is, definitely takes a back seat to the artist's vision.

To me, the perfect marriage of technique and subject matter is the work of Kehinde Wiley. The technique makes you look at the subject matter in a new light and vice versa.

I really liked the paintings of paint.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:44 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Limited edition Giclée on canvas."

Something tells me the listicle author doesn't know what "Giclée" is.

"I literally stare in awe at their creations with some of the basic tools they use."

Or maybe he was just sitting next to an inkjet printer when he Googled for the pictures.
posted by effbot at 12:49 AM on April 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I thought the ballpoint pen one was astounding, because I've never seen coloured art in ballpoint pen before, and didn't know it was possible to draw realistically in that medium.

I also like the painting of paint, because the concept made me smile.
posted by lollusc at 2:34 AM on April 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Technique for its own sake is an anachronism in today's artworld..... as though "you are one real good drawer" is still a compliment.

The Mueck work was interesting though.

and I like the Mike Bayne works of suburbia. but not because of the technique they would be just as good as prints.
posted by mary8nne at 3:38 AM on April 14, 2014

We must be a nation of kites, the way everything's supposed to "blow us away."

Also, whenever I see Ron Mueck's wonderful work, I automatically imagining Ludo answering my mental queries about the pieces.

"Ludo use #00 knitting needle to place hair!"
posted by sonascope at 4:06 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Otherwise it's just a display of skill, like all other trompe l'oie, and good art can be more than that

Interesting to see Thomas Arvid working with the painting upside down, which is a well-known technique for forging ie mechanical copying. For the rest, the determination that the media used shouldn't leave any traces of itself in the image makes me find them, well, mechanical, mostly. But I liked the ball point pen drawing, because it was just that bit stylized and characteristic of a ball point pen. Also, the lovely textural enigmatic paintings of Alyssa Monks. And the moody intimate Lee Price paintings. These all have a quality about them that is more than purely mechanical. I would say that interesting photos also have that quality, which is about selection and resonance and interpretation.

It's interesting how there's an illusion of hyperrealism constructed in some of the work by adopting the visual effects of photographic techniques - narrow depth of field, extreme shutter speed. The conventions of photography have in these cases superceded what and how the artist would otherwise perceive their subject matter. It's also my opinion - wonder if other artists would agree - discrete textures with bloom and edges and reflections and so forth are one of those virtuoso subjects that look really impressive but are not as hard to render as you might think.

(I also really like the grapes. But it references, as well as photography, a style of painting that was very much about exact representation and virtuosity, so it's a richer image that some of the others.)
posted by glasseyes at 4:20 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is a particular mindset that once a pigment hits a surface, the result has to convey something about humanity or depict something otherworldly to be interesting. Having not seen lots of realistic works, they're still amazing to some of us.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 5:53 AM on April 14, 2014

I had the joy of taking a small number of drawing lessons from Carroll N. Jones III when I was in high school. At the time, he was working almost entirely in pencil. For the most part his work at that time was of architectural subjects, usually featuring very bright lighting and lots of peeling paint (although he did have the occasional person or cat. All of this was done with pencil with small strokes. Shading was the result of cross-hatching with harder/softer pencils (IIRC). The end effect is akin to pen and ink drawings but with a softer edge.

In drawing lessons, my first task was to draw a white cube lit by a single light with a simple white background and my tools were chalk, charcoal, halftone paper, a shading stump, and a kneaded eraser (which is a very classical start). I think the hardest part was getting it in my head that I wasn't allowed to mix the chalk and the charcoal as there was no need - the halftone paper represented the exact middle. It took 3 weekly lessons to do the cube.

I have a print of Antique Christening Dress in my office which is just ethereal (detail here). Seeing his work in progress was almost as eye-popping as the finished works. My mom commissioned him to do a drawing of the underside of an owl butterfly for me and it is anatomical and also unfinished since one of his cats ruined the mounted butterfly he was drawing from.

Around 1983 or so, he started working in oils and it was completely obvious that it was his work, but the addition of color felt so odd after seeing so much pencil work.
posted by plinth at 6:36 AM on April 14, 2014

My fifty year old could do that.
posted by thelonius at 7:09 AM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

What's wrong with just taking a photograph?

To be fair, all of these did begin with a photograph. Or several photographs. None of these were created freehand by the artist simply looking at the subject. If you watch the video for "Plastic" you can clearly see the way the image is mapped-out on the canvas, with the colors and tones broken-down into specific areas. Fundamentally, hyper-real paintings like these are akin to extremely, extremely complex paint-by-numbers pieces. There's a ton of planning involved.

Note, though, that, mapped-out as it may be, there's still a ton of work done by the artist in the execution of the piece. The devil is in the details, as it were.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:13 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the same kind of cantankerous response to people telling me I'm going to be blown away as I do to someone telling me I may have already won.

These are pretty cool, though.

Hyperrealism usually takes one of two forms. It either replicates the glitchy aspects of photography, or it captures the type of minute detail that most photography lacks (maybe HD photography). And a lot of the effect has to do with the mundanity of the subjects. In either case, your initial reaction is to assume it's not a painting or drawing, because it's not composed like one. Maybe it's something kind of dull and commonplace, framed weirdly like a snapshot, or replicates some photography glitch like the washed out 70s film coloring in this guy's paintings, which are My Favorite Thing Today. And that itself dulls your initial skepticism. It's not a painting because who would paint that? Which maybe is the point of painting it.

Back when I was cool, I went to a few exhibits of hyperrealistic art, and one of the really great aspects of it is the interactive part. The part where, in the case of super-focused pieces, the focus changes with your gaze; and the part where you get up really really close to see the mechanics of the artist's strokes, then pull away slowly as the effect takes over. You can't really replicate the full effect of that on a webpage.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:39 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Main link is giving me a 404...
posted by desuetude at 11:11 AM on April 14, 2014

Someone whose work I keep seeing turn up and that can veer between really interesting and really boring in photorealism is Vija Celmins, where I really like some of her stuff like renderings of reactions to nuclear weapon testings, but other stuff, like the star fields, just gets kind of boring after a while. I need more visceral imagery to hold my attention, I guess. I do really like her drawings of waves though.
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2014

Vegartanipla said it well. I feel the same way. But I'm actually bothered by paintings that replicate bokeh exactly, because that is a uniquely photographic element and seeing it in paint is jarring.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2014

These were truly mind bending for me. I thought this sort of talent and ability had been lost to the mists of time centuries ago.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:51 PM on April 14, 2014

desuetude: Main link is giving me a 404...

Actually, that's a hand-drawing in chalk of a 404 page. It fooled me too, at first.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:27 AM on April 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Doing this sort of work isn't really some rare talent or ability. Anyone reasonably capable at handling paint can use it to recreate effects they find in photo reference. It is however labor intensive and not very interesting. You might as well dig ditches or transcribe volumes of text. For most artists the effort to do this sort of work doesn't square with the reward of what is communicated. Photography is a wonderful medium for realism with an ease of use that frees the artist for the rewarding work of conceptual exploration.

Sometimes photography is inadequate and that changes the equation. Many of the people with these skills make special effects or realistic video game art. Special effects require the creation of images that are too expensive or impossible to photograph directly but still need to operate in the context of other photographic images so the payoff is in the seamlessness. Video game artists often depict things that can be photographed but the need to give the audience some control of the movement or arrangement of the visual elements can not be fulfilled by photography. Often these games are designed to bear some resemblance to photo based media like sporting events or films so the effort pays off not just in the interactivity but in the context.

My point is that you are inundated with the output of this sort of skill constantly in popular media. It is only in the context of gallery arts that it fell very much out of favor and has only recently started to reemerge. Here too it is by communicating things that photography can not that these techniques become valuable.
posted by subtle_squid at 11:35 AM on April 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Technically excellent, all of them but rather lacking in depth.
They are brilliant for what they are but as others point out they are lacking, at least to me.
This technicality could be a lead in to a hyper realistic surrealism as portrayed by Jeremy Geddes or Till Rabus or more scuptures like those of Zarko Baseski in the same style as Ron Mueck.
For photography there is Erik Johannson.
So I wasn't really blown away except maybe by Mueck whose work I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of weeks back and also maybe the water on face one by Daisy So
For pen and ink we have previously seen Laurie Lipton on the blue and for shere almost psychadelic technique and brilliance with no photos involved there is always mefi's own revikim.
posted by adamvasco at 10:54 AM on April 20, 2014

Also Andrey Remnev who paints quasi classical portraits in a photo realistic style
posted by adamvasco at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2014

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