Throughout the history of painting from the mid-19th century forward, artists have used an
endless variety of approaches to record their world. Beyond the Lens: Photorealist Perspectives on Looking, Seeing, and Painting continues this thread, offering an opportunity to explore a singular and still forceful aspect of American art. Photorealism shares many of the approaches of historical and modernist realism, with a twist. The use of the camera as a basic tool for organizing visual information in advance of painterly expression is now quite common, but Photorealists embraced the camera as the focal point in their creative process.
Beyond the Lens presents key works from the collection of Louis K. and Susan Pear Meisel,
bringing together paintings and works on paper dating from the 1970s to the present to focus on this profoundly influential art movement. The exhibition includes work by highly acclaimed formative artists of the movement such as Charles Bell, Robert Bechtle, Tom Blackwell, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, and Ralph Goings as well as paintings by the successive generations of Photorealist artists Anthony Brunelli, Davis Cone, Bertrand Meniel, Rod Penner, and Raphaella Spence. Featured artworks in the exhibition include diverse subject matters, but the primary focus is on the common and every day: urban scenes, “portraits” of cars, trucks, and motorcycles, still life compositions using toys, food, candy wrappers, and salt and pepper shakers. All provide opportunities for virtuoso studies in how light, reflection, and the camera as intermediary shapes our perception of the material world.
This multigenerational survey demonstrates how the 35-mm camera, and later technological
advances in digital image-making, informed and impacted the painterly gesture. Taken together, the paintings and works on paper in Beyond the Lens show how simply spellbinding these virtuosic works of art can be.
“Beyond the Lens offers a fascinating look into the Photorealism movement and delves into the profound connection between the artists’ observation and creative process,” says Pamela L. Myers, Executive Director of Asheville Art Museum. “We are delighted to present this curated collection of artworks encapsulating the creative vision and technical precision that defines this artistic genre.”
Photorealism found its roots in the late 1960s in California and New York, coexisting with an explosion of new ideas in art-making that included Conceptual, Pop, Minimalism, Land and Performance Art. At first, representational realism coexisted with the thematic and conceptual explosion but was eventually relegated to the margins regarding critical and curatorial attention. Often misunderstood and sometimes negatively criticized or lampooned as a betrayal of modernism’s commitment to abstraction, the artists involved in Photorealism remained committed explorers of the trail they had blazed. In the decades of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, realistic and symbolic painting experienced a renaissance, as contemporary artists are increasingly drawn to narrative and storytelling. Concurrently, using a camera as a preparatory tool equally legitimate and valuable as pencils and pens has made the rubric of Photorealism increasingly relevant.
This exhibition is organized by the Asheville Art Museum and guest curated by Terrie Sultan.
This exhibition is sponsored in part by Jim and Julia Calkins Peterson.