From Photorealism to Funism (1960’s-present)


Photorealism emerged as a US movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and is about creating paintings that appear to be photographic. It is said to have emerged from Pop Art and to have been a counter to the abstract expressionism and minimalist movements. Because the artists copy from actual photographs they were often accused of imitation (even if photographic material has often been used by artists in the past). Pop Art focussed on the absurdity of photographic media as a representation of reality, whereas photorealists aims to exalt the value of the image.

Tom Blackwell (born 1938) was one of the original photorealist painters, with a interest in large-scale works based upon motorcycles and storefronts with manikins, e.g. below on the left we have Odalisque Express (1992-93). Roberto Bernardi (born 1974) is modern Photorealist painter interested in images of plates, glasses and candy, e.g. below on the right we have Le due Luci (2012).

Hyper-Realism is essentially a continuation (some would say a splinter group) into the early 2000’s of Photorealism. According to the Wikipedia article Photorealism does not aim to capture human emotion, political value, or narrative (being a “mechanical” style), whereas Hyper-Realism aims at more complex images presenting living, tangible objects in a “reality” that is not actually seen in the original photograph, e.g. a false reality but not surreal. Photorealism can be equated to the analog photograph, whereas Hyper-Reality uses high-resolution digital photography. Ian Hornak (1944-2002) is often seen as Hyper-Realist painter with his Asmodeus (1985) below on the left, and on the right we have a sculpture of Duane Hanson (1925-1996) called Self-Portrait with Model (1979).

Some people question the purpose of Photorealism. Why not just take a photo? Where is the interpretation? It is just technical skill, where is the great artist? Others argue that the “real” of Photorealism is more real than a photo. No matter what you think of Hyper-Realism there is a majesty in the technical ability of the artist. To conclude, a little test. Below we have a work by the Scottish hyper-realist artist Paul Cadden, and a classical b&w photo. Which is which?

The photo is on the right!

Check out the videos on Photorealism Paintings and Awesome Hyperrealist Paintings.

Neo-Expressionism emerged in the late 1970’s and was a major force through to the mid-80’s, and lasted through to the mod-90’s. Inspired by the German Expressionists of the 1920’s, Neo-Expressionism is related to Lyrical Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art. It would appear to be a reaction against Conceptual Art and Minimalist Art, aiming to (re-)activate the imagination and give vent to romanticism and human emotion. I can well understand the motivation of the artists, but I must admit that find it difficult to identity with what they produced. Here are a couple of paintings, on the left is the Mona Lisa by the American Jean-Michel Basquait (1960-1988), and on the right  one of the “plate paintings” (Untitled, 1985) by the American Julian Schnabel (born 1951).  

Massurrealism is the combination of two words, mass media and Surrealism, created in 1992. From what I can understand it emphasises the effect of technology and mass media of surrealist imagery. I must admit it has produced some cool paintings. For example below on the left we have Clock-Eyed from the British artist Alan King (born 1952), and on the right de sus sueños by Sergio Carlos Spinelli.

Below on the left we have On Massurrealism (1998) by Ginnie Gardiner, and on the right we have Untitled (1992) by James Seehafer (the inventor of the word Massurrealism).

There could be some considerable millage in Massurrealism in so far as it is a movement that can evolve as technology evolves, even if today that only means the way the artists produce their images. For the moment the movement is at the interaction of Pop-Art, mass media, and Surrealism, but the challenge will be to avoid being confined by that narrow interaction. 

The Wikipedia reference states that the Maximalism movement was founded by the German Daryush Shokof in 1990. At least one reference also defines Maximalism as a term coined by the curator Dr. Gao Minglu, a Chinese expert on contemporary art.

At least in part it is meant to be a risposte to banal forms of realism or artistic conventions, an antidote to “less is more” Minimalism, with a focus on “more is more” and creating more love, passion, abundance, inclusiveness, .... and maximising life.

There is certainly something to be said for Maximalist architecture in supports the desire of people to have uniqueness and personality in a world of building resembling military barracks. For example Frank Gehry has been defined as a Deconstructivist architect, but some of his work could easily be defined as Maximalist, e.g. on the left the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and on the right the Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic. 

In art Maximalism starts really by describing overt accumulation, the ostentatiousness and redundancy in collecting things such as household goods. The style is often bright, visually rich, figurative, fantastical and excessive, but equally ironic, politically aware, and socially driven. It is “everything happening at once”. The Chinese photographer Hong Hao has a series called My Things, on the left you have My Things #2, and on the right My Things Book-Keeping of 6. These are items from his home, photographed and arranged, interesting if a bit obsessive. 

Below on the left we have Misfits (2010-11) by the London-based artists David Lock. On the right we have a very recent piece by the Korean artist Hwang Se-jin called something along the lines “to sleep in the same place but to dream different dreams”.

Not sure why but I like this type of art. I also find interesting the idea that art should relentlessly interrogate every aspect of our everyday lives. Maybe, just maybe, when we see the futility of our over soap-opera consumerist lives we will relent and return to some sense of normality. Who knows, we can always hope!

Classical Realism is all about combining elements of 19th C Neoclassicism and Realism. It would appear that it’s starting point was when Richard Lack (1928-2009) established an atelier in 1967 for the fine arts. By 1980 there were a significant number of young artists trained in the traditions of western art, e.g. the styles of the academics and impressionists. It is suggested that the traditional skills and methods of the artist has been lost in modern art. The object is revive the mastery of a craft and make objects that both reflect contemporary subjects and gratify and ennoble those who see them. The basic infrastructure of this movement are the ateliers where students learn to draw and paint according to classical ideals of beauty.

I have tried to focus on contemporary topics, or as in our first example a rather absurd and grotesque representation that the artist claims mirrors his state of mind at the time! Below left we have Les Fiancés by Georges Mazilu, and on the right is Intention by Rose Adare. Lower still and on the left we have Salome by Nelson Shanks (who might well call himself a figurative artist). Many artists working in the Classical Realist style tend to “copy” classical themes, for example The Last Supper of J.Kirk Richards.   

Pseudo-Realism is more a catch-all describing an artistic technique that, often involving the use of computer graphics, is non-real or non-realistic, or at least not an accurate representation of reality. It can have a pejorative connotation, or it can simply refer to the way something unreal can still give the impression of realness. It would appear to have been used initially to describe 21st C films that use computer graphics to create the feeling of the real.

The artist most symbolic of this movement is the Indian painter Devajyoti Rey (born 1974). Below on the left we have his Goodbye, and on the right his Mother.

However in my mind Pseudo-Realism perhaps finds it real sense in computer-generated imagery (so called CGI) in film. In the past we saw traditional photography and film as in some way presenting “reality” or a “truth”. Today some types of CGI-enhanced films try to create a “photorealism”, others a stylised Toy Story-like realism, and others, such as Final Fantasy or Avatar, have even been called hyper-realist. It has been suggested that the arrival of photography freed the artist from the drive for unachievable likeness, and kick-started expressionism. Perhaps the Pseudo-Realist movement (and others) has been kicked started by the arrival of CGI-enhanced reality in film (of course there is some confusion with a different concept of pseudo-realism as found in the “trompe l’oeil”). In some ways I see this Pseudo-Realism art movement as being the Toy Story-like equivalent in painting, a form of realism freed of the need to look picture-like real.

What is equally interesting is in the way Pseudo-Realism relates to both to some recent forms of Socialist Realism (not Social Realism) and Cynical Realism in China. The origins of Socialist Realism are dealt with elsewhere, but there is a form Chinese Socialist Realism that has its roots in the Socialist Realism of the old Soviet Union mixed with the style of the New Woodcut Movement of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Remembering that in China (as in many other Communist states) there is no art for art’s sake, all art serves to build the nation state (e.g. as propaganda). The poster was the main tool (but not the only one) of Chinese Socialist Realism - with its bright colours, clean outlines and graduations in tones, e.g. see the examples below.

There is also a counter movement Cynical Realism, another form of propaganda found in contemporary Chinese art having an ironic take on the changes in Chinese society and the “freedoms” now available. Below we have examples of this style, with the middle painting Wild Laugh by the Chinese artist Yue Minjun.

This type of art is very trendy at the moment, but the style and techniques lend themselves easily to copies and fakes. 

Interestingly a number of lists of contemporary art movements list Bitterism (1998-present), but I have found neither detailed references nor examples!

On the other hand Stuckism appears to be a movement with a future. Started in the UK in 1999 it would appear to have hundreds of group active around the world. It is defined as a quest for authenticity by opposing Conceptual Art and promoting figurative painting, e.g. art with spiritual values. It has even been called an anti-anti-art! The movement has its own Website which is worth a read, even if some experts consider their opposition to many 21st C movements as an opposition to creativity and “poetic revelations” of so-called ready-made and found-object movements. I suppose the real test is going to be the quality of the art produced by the Stuckism movement. Let’s kick of with The Last Supper (Stickist 10 year anniversary) by Elia Guru (2009), and the fact that Stuckists are very, very anti-Turner Prize.

My thoughts are that the ideas behind the Stuckism movement are worth supporting (e.g. against $4 million for a shark in formaldehyde), but that it is a shame that they are not always promoted by artists who can actually paint (even if some their concepts and ideas are great)! Below on the left we have Best in Show by Michael Dickinson (1950) which is showing the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdğan as a dog being presented a rosette by the US President Bush. On the right we have Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision by Charles Thomson (2000), where of course Serota is the Director of the Tate in London since 1988 (and got his knighthood in 1999), and famous for rejecting a collection of 160 Stuckist paintings as being “not of sufficient quality ... accomplishment, innovation or originality ...”.

Thinkism is an ideological movement started after 9/11 with the aim to use art as a positive tool for social change. In their manifesto they suggest that art must enrich the mind and feed the soul rather than just decorate walls. It is very difficult to find documented examples of Thinkism, but the four examples below appear in Google as tagged with Thinkism - who knows? The horses of the artist Heather Jansch are actually made of driftwood and weigh 100’s kg.

We will finish this page with Funism. The origins of this movement appear to be with an American artist called Sal Marino (  ) and date from ca. 2001-02 (he claims copyright and has developed a kind of social commentary folk art approach where he thinks art should be fun and not over intellectualised).

However another artist called Norm Magnusson (born 1960) also claims to have founded Funism in around 1991 (with a focus on painting allegorical animals with pointed social commentaries, so something fun to look at and intellectually engaging without being elitist). This second claim could even be in itself a prank, and thus a work of Funism!

I am not that impressed with this “movement”, it looks like it is trying to elevate garbage art to a “higher status”. A lost cause in my opinion! The first example below left is Guy Talk, Girl Talk by Sal Marino, but the second example has more merit and is Funism with Food by Jay Smithline.

All for now on -isms, have fun!


On page one of our -ism’s we looked American Figurative Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Post-Minimalism.

On this page we continue our zig-zag with Photorealism, Neo-Expressionism, Massurrealism, Maximalism, Classical Realism, Pseudo-Realism, Cynical Realism, Bitterism, Stuckism, Thinkism, and finally Funism.

The suffix -ism has its origins in Greek and is often appended to philosophical or political movements to indicate an action or practice of doing something, e.g. from acosmism (a doctrine that the universe or cosmos does not exist), through hylozoism (a view that all matter is endowed with life), to phenomenalism (holding that concepts only desribe how things appear to us and are not reliable descriptions of reality).

So here we continue our whistle stop tour of the -isms in contemporary art!