While most artists incorporate the use of photography in their work, many won’t admit it. There’s a widespread belief that working from a photograph is worse than working from real life or from your imagination. As far as I can gather, the idea for most photography shunning artists is that it’s too easy to translate a 2D image to a 2D work, while the idea for most non-artists is that the photographic image is already in existence, so what’s the point?
To any photorealism shunning audience members, I ask you to suspend your disbelief for a short while, and take a look at the work of Audrey Flack:
"Chanel" by Audrey Flack (1974)
"Wheel of Fortune" by Audrey Flack (1977-1978)
Interesting, isn’t it? And a style that, while naturalistic, I don’t think that you can claim is derivative of a photograph. A photo of a similar still life would lack the vibrancy, the sense of movement, the certain je ne sais quoi that this work has.
Audrey Flack is a photorealist (hyper realist, super realist…) printmaker, sculptor, and as we’ll be focusing on here, painter known primarily for her work throughout the 1970s and 80s. She is one of the founding mothers of the photorealist movement, and her work has helped to legitimize the idea of working from a photograph.
Even amongst the other pioneers of photorealism Flack encountered adversity. Her subject matter was considered too feminine, too emotional for the seemingly never-ending stream of masculine cars, empty and passionless streets, and coolly-toned portraits of her contemporaries. As Flack stated in regards to such criticism, “I painted what was around me and what I was interested in. This was then deemed “feminine” subject matter. I just happened to be a woman”. To an extent, I agree with critics on this. Flack’s work is arguably very feminine. The subject matter are objects generally owned by women and many of her paintings have feminist undertones. However, this became one of the main insults directed towards her work as critics and contemporaries insinuated that her paintings were somehow “too feminine” to be photorealist, too tied to her emotions to be compared to the work of Estes and Close. Which I personally find ridiculous. Many of Close’s paintings, in particular, are fairly emotional. Take a look at this portrait created around the same time as Flack’s “too feminine” paintings.
"Big Self Portrait" by Chuck Close (1967-1968)
I would hardly call this unemotional. I would also say that the portrait is highly masculine. The subject is looking down at us, placing himself in a position of power. His gaze could be read as one of contempt, as a cigarette (Masculine!) droops from his lips. Yet, are there complaints that this is too masculine? And for that matter, if artwork can become too feminine or too masculine then are we striving for androgyny? It seems as though only one end of our gender spectrum is considered unsuitable as a subject of art. In fact, I would claim that in the photorealist time period anything not decisively male would not be considered high art.
Of course, I can see how you could argue that this piece is not masculine in the way that Flack’s piece is feminine. And thus we get to the work of Tom Blackwell.
"Bond's Corner" by Tom Blackwell (1975)
"'34 Ford Tudor Sedan" by Tom Blackwell (1971)
It’s like we’re bathing in testosterone! Cars and bikes! Fuck yeah! Continue reading