The Devil is in the Detail – Photorealism in Contemporary Australian Art

What is Photorealism?

Photorealism is an art term and movement that describes art which aims to appear ‘photographic’, often with fine detail, high clarity, and a focus on realism. Originally beginning in the 1960s, the Photorealist movement involved masterful technical execution, often on a large scale, bringing together the photographic and painting mediums to reflect the post-war urban aesthetic. The early 1990s saw a renewed interest in photorealism, largely due to new technology in cameras and digital equipment.

The photorealist style is often favourable amongst contemporary art collectors. A question often asked by the public is, “how long did that take to make?”. The photorealist style shows a heightened level of detail and technical skill with a clear time dedication from the artist – something which is appreciated broadly amongst collectors from a first glance. Upon second glance, however, there is even more to delight the viewer. The devil is in the detail, and there is certainly much to observe in a photorealist painting if the viewer permits further inspection.

Many contemporary practitioners here in Australia self-identify as photorealists, or have been referred to in critical discussion as photorealist painters. Here are three such artists to watch that are featured in our Centum contemporary art auction this June:

MATTHEW QUICK (born 1967)
Pure Greed
oil on linen
100 x 100cm

Matthew Quick

Matthew’s work often features a hidden narrative. Visually, we can identify quirky objects in often surreal settings which, combined with his clever and quirky titles, hold deeper meanings. In many cases he leaves us intrigued, attempting to find the root of the meaning of each work where sometimes endless stories can be surmised, blurring between photorealism, hyperrealism, and even surrealism!

(born 1962)
View Point (detail)
oil on canvas
100.5 x 151cm

Peter Smets

The sense of place in Peter’s paintings is nearly always ambiguous. We feel it is familiar, and yet fictional. While the individuals and objects may be sourced from the artist’s encounters and photographic documents, he brings them together with imagination and careful consideration. Each object, shadow, and figure is strategically placed to complete a technically brilliant painting.

(born 1959)
Mother and Foal – Morning Salutations
oil on canvas
90 x 146cm

Lawrence Starkey                                           

Often described as a photorealist painter, Starkey’s subject matter of choice is clearly the horse. I can’t help but think back to Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 photographic document of a horse galloping – not only a feat for photography but a justification of the true gallop of a horse. It’s muscles and powerful stride were now truly documented, and Lawrence’s paintings bring this admiration for these majestic creatures into the 21st Century. His more recent works delve into imaginative compositions, with overlapping images and superimposed backgrounds.


May 2021