Starting in the late 1960s and gaining traction in the 1970s, photorealism in art became a genre in its own right and eventually a widespread movement that was born out of Pop Art that came before. Their attention to detail displays an immense amount of effort that the style requires. This, naturally, was because the movement started as a counter to Abstract Expressionism and Minimalist art movements that were popular at the time.
Armed with the use of high-definition photography, photorealists no longer had to study their subjects en plein air. They could take their time and study their photographs while reproducing their precision with paint.
Here are 7 photorealistic artists who have mastered their subjects with the most unbelievable detail.
1. Michael James Smith
Painting landscapes is an extremely popular form of art, and the genre has produced many famous practitioners, but few can claim to have the technical skill of contemporary artist Michael James Smith. His attention to form is exquisite in its detail, and his understanding of color makes his painting appear bright and alive. As such, his paintings have become highly prized in the art world.
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Born in 1976 to landscape artist David Smith, Michael was exposed to art from an extremely young age and took after his father in his love for landscape paintings. He studied Fine Art in college and joined his father in his studio, devoting himself to a full-time career in art.
As his career progressed, he took his presence online and currently holds art classes through his own MJS Online Art School. He also has many tutorial videos on Youtube, which have brought much attention to his work.
The subjects of his paintings are predominantly of nature within his home country. Born in Essex in southern England, Michael’s father often took him on scenic countryside trips. This influenced Michael and helped him develop his love for Britain’s natural beauty, which he would go on to showcase through his incredible work.
In 2019 he launched his two websites: his official online store and Michael James Smith TV.
He currently resides in a small town on the outskirts of Chelmsford with his wife, three children, and his dog.
2. Raphaella Spence
Raphaella Spence is a critically acclaimed photorealist artist whose work has achieved a huge level of recognition across a wide variety of publications. Her art has found homes in private and public collections across the world.
Her art proves that Spence has an incredible level of technical skill. Her ability with the brush is awe-inspiring as she captures and recreates the subject with a vibrancy that has brought her significant fame in the art world.
After Raphaella Spence was born in London in 1978, her family moved to France, and she spent the first eight years of her life there. They returned to London in 1986, and around this time, Spence discovered the work of her father, Milton John Erwin Spence, and her grandfather, Sir Basil Spence, both architectural artists. These representations in pencil and watercolor served as the first inspiration for Raphaella.
In 1990, her family moved permanently to Todi, Italy, where Spence fell in love with painting the Umbrian countryside. It was here that she finished her schooling and started her career as a full-time artist.
Her first solo exhibit came in 1999, and in 2003 she exhibited at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York, where her work is exhibited to this day. Soon after, her works found places in the same physical space as established masters of the photorealism genre, such as Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Don Eddy, Ralph Goings, and Robert Cottingham.
Since then, her work as a photorealist and a hyperrealist has become internationally renowned, and her work has been displayed in many countries around the world. One of her most recent exhibitions included scenes of underwater pollution, such as plastic and other waste. To capture the photographs required for these paintings, she made use of a high-resolution underwater camera. A new selection of these works will be displayed in the Parrish Art Museum in New York in 2024.
3. Anthony Brunelli
Anthony Brunelli is well known for his photorealistic paintings of urban landscapes and street scenes from cities around the world. Having achieved the milestone of a 25-year retrospective, Brunelli has established himself as one of the leading photorealists of the current era.
Born in 1968 in Binghamton, New York, Brunelli was an avid artist from a young age, spending much of his time drawing cartoons. He also had dreams of becoming a professional baseball player but realized that with his art, he would be free to pursue this passion without interference and competition from other people.
His mother was an artist, and with the support of both his parents, he was encouraged to develop his skills and choose a career in the art world. One of his school trips took him to New York City, where he went to Pace Gallery in SoHo. It was there that he discovered a painting by master photorealist Chuck Close, and as luck would have it, Chuck Close was there that day. After meeting with the legend and being awed by his work, Brunelli decided to focus his artistic skills on photorealism.
Brunelli expanded his skills at Columbus College of Art and Design before moving back to Binghamton. While juggling family life and his career, his work has been featured in numerous magazines, and his art has been shown in many galleries. He sold his first painting in 1993 for $12,000. His career started reaching new heights in 2014 when his work reached new audiences through group exhibitions, and he has, since then, had solo exhibitions as well, specifically at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery and the Arnot Art Museum, both in New York State.
4. Yigal Ozeri
One of the most incredible photorealists in art today is Israeli-born Yigal Ozeri, widely known for his large-scale cinematic portraits of young women in natural settings. Through his visuals, he combines a foundational understanding of romanticism with contemporary ideas of feminine sensuality. Subconscious identity is confronted through his works which offer an authentic experience by way of photorealistic reality. The subjects’ seductive power, however, compels the viewer to consider the imagined domain between reality and fantasy.
A photorealist artist, many of Ozeri’s works hint at hyperrealism, engaging with emotion and adding photographic elements that mimic fantasy. This challenges the original ideas of what photorealism is considered in terms of its deadpan, clinical approach to art. It shows that the subject in the photograph need not be a banal object but lively and emotive. As such, it can be argued that Yigal Ozeri‘s art inhabits a space next to the art of Chuck Close in that it represents a bridge between photorealism and hyperrealism.
Ozeri works almost exclusively in oil, and he works on canvas as well as paper.
His work began to take off in the late 1980s, and since then, it has attracted a huge following. Ozeri has been displayed in galleries around the world and has graced the pages and covers of many publications.
He lives and works in New York City.
5. Mike Bayne
Mike Bayne is known for his miniature paintings. He is a master of taking what would be considered mundane and rendering, with precise detail, things that are naturally overlooked. By doing so, he brings to our attention things we choose not to notice and shows us what he pays attention to.
His subject matter is all manner of urban environments. Small commercial enterprises, old cars, motels, highway road signs, and many other fleeting urban images. His work also includes many portraits of his family, especially his wife, Crista.
Born in Ottawa in 1977, this Canadian photorealist artist discovered success at a relatively young age. With his work catching the eyes of those with influence in the art world in Toronto, his work has enjoyed solo exhibitions and group exhibitions since 2004.
With many awards to his name and several exhibitions every year, Bayne’s future in the art world looks very positive.
6. Rod Penner
Rod Penner is known for his subject matter of abandoned and derelict places in small Texas towns. The light quality that Penner captures in his paintings through his meticulous technique gives his subjects a warm, cinematic quality that evokes familiar ideas of prosperous times in now-abandoned places.
His art has been displayed in group exhibitions since 1986, and he has traveled to many countries in Europe. He has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1990, and his work has been a frequent feature in galleries such as Miles McEnery Gallery and O.K. Harris Works of Art, both in New York. His art has also been displayed as solo exhibitions at The Artist Book Foundation in Massachusetts, the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York, the Amarillo Museum of Art, and the Kaufmann Galleries in Houston.
Rod Penner resides in Texas Hill Country with his wife, Debbie. They have five children.
7. Roberto Bernardi
Also known for his hyperrealist art, including sculptures, Roberto Bernardi is a photorealist artist whose paintings contain subjects of everyday items. Perhaps his most well-known paintings are those containing various lollipops and candies, many still in their wrappers. Many of his subjects are glossy, reflective items, allowing Bernardi to recreate the precise, sharp, and delicate features of reflecting light.
Born in 1974 in Todi, Italy, Bernardi began making art in the early 1980s. He showed a remarkable aptitude for art, and after graduating from high school in 1993, he moved to Rome, where he worked on restoring the church of San Francesco a Ripa. The following year, he decided to strike out on his own and dedicated himself to his own art, with a style closely related to photorealism.
His solo exhibitions began in 2003, and his work has since been exhibited all over the world.
After meeting fellow photorealist and hyperrealist artist Raphaella Spence, the two artists collaborated on a number of large paintings of subjects such as crowds at football stadiums. In 2007, some of these works were exhibited at Musei Capitolini in Rome and auctioned at Sotheby’s. Since then, he has worked on some high-profile works for individuals and multinational companies.
Since photographs exist, many people question the point of reproducing their exactness, but there are indeed many reasons to find appreciation in photorealistic paintings. Perhaps the greatest of them all is the knowledge that the painting is not a photograph. It is awe-inspiring to look upon a work of art that involves such exact detail that it is almost indistinguishable from the precision found in modern photographs.
Examining the painting also reveals beauty in oft-overlooked subjects that are brought to our attention by the artist.
The patience and effort required for such art put it at an extreme end of a certain spectrum, and as such, photorealism will continue to attract artists who relate to perfectionism.