Jennifer Klos thinks visitors to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art won't believe their eyes when they look — and they'll want to look closely — at the special exhibition opening Thursday in the museum's first-floor gallery.
Despite the near-microscopic attention to detail — the finery of feathers covering a chick, the tiny crosshatching inside a car headlight, the swirling translucent interior of a glass marble — the more than 60 works in “Photorealism Revisited” aren't photographs.
They are paintings based on photographs.
“You have to see it to believe because what you're going to see are images that appear so photographic that it almost seems impossible that the artist would be able to contrive and create such detail through paint. This is detail through paint and through their technique that they can trick the eye,” said Klos, associate curator at the museum, who will speak Wednesday night before the members' preview.
“Even though they look very photographic — they look very realistic — they are certainly images that have been created only by an artist's hand.”
The term “photorealism” was coined by gallery owner Louis K. Meisel in 1968 to describe artists who began favoring a new type of realism inspired by photography. The aesthetic grew out of the pop art and minimalism movements.
“To be considered a photorealist, you have to have engaged the medium of photography in some way as a source material,” Klos said. “Some artists prefer to work from photographs from magazines, from popular culture, reflecting the pop art movement, and others take very strategic and contrived ... photographs to create their composition. And from there, they can then further manipulate the image, whether it be by hand-drawing it or even putting it into Photoshop and changing the colors, creating what they want their composition to be of their painting.
“But the end result is truly a painting and not a photograph.”
“Photorealism Revisited” features works by two Oklahoma artists: Charles Bell, a Tulsa native and University of Oklahoma graduate who died in 1995 at the age of 60, and Dennis James Martin, an Oklahoma City resident who died in 2001 at the age of 45.
Inspired by pop art, Bell was an acclaimed photorealist who created paintings of marbles, dolls and other toys. Martin was known for his figure drawings using a painstaking technique called metal point.
The exhibit includes paintings by photorealism pioneers like Robert Bechtle, Chuck Close, Audrey Flack and Richard Estes as well as representing contemporary artists like Don Jacot, Cheryl Kelley, Peter Maier and Robert Neffson.
“This exhibition can simultaneously be historical and contemporary,” Klos said. “Even though it was created and started as an art movement in (about) 1970, it has almost been in existence ever since then. I think artists will always become followers or prefer the style of photorealism because it is something that is tangible.”
Some common themes emerge when comparing the works of the pioneering and contemporary artists.
“Urban scenes tend to be a popular subject matter because they're looking at scenes of everyday life and placing it in a very exact moment of time and place,” Klos said. “They're hyper-real snapshots of everyday life.”
Like Bechtle before her, Kelley captures and comments on America's obsessive car culture in her works, while Bell's 1994 “Kandy Kane Rainbow,” depicting a collection of bright, shiny marbles, dovetails neatly with Jacot's vivid 2007 close-up of a Flash Gordon toy.
“I think everybody'll be able to have an emotional connection because of all the nostalgia, especially in the pop art (works),” said Ralph Cornelius, the museum's marketing and communications manager.
Although they look lifelike, scale, color and perspective often are exaggerated in photorealist paintings to present a heightened version of reality.
“When the artist is working through a photograph, that's one interpretation of reality. They're then further reinterpreting it by transferring that image to the canvas,” Klos said. “So even though — and this is one of the harder challenges of photorealism — you're seeing something that looks highly photographic and highly realistic, it's not real life.”