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The Realism Revival

Art Lovers | 10 March 2020

Words by Emma-Kate Wilson


After the many years of abstraction, surrealism, ready-made sculpture, and conceptual art, we are slowly seeing a return to realism art almost 200 years since the first emergence of the movement in French society. Started up around the 1848 Revolution the movement first served as a reaction to Romanticism, its most famous example being the l’origine du monde (1866) by Gustave Courbet.

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Le Désespéré (Desperation or The Desperate Man) by Gustave Courbet (Self Portrait)

Post-modern art had a brief relationship with the simple representation of life around the mid-20th Century, yet the artworks revealing brushstrokes and pictorial flatness. As with the original movement, it was a reaction to the horrors of the wars. The likes of Lucian Freud emerged, representing the mundane elements of life and the everyday person — but through the painterly-hand, they remained connected to the artworks.

Today, Hyperrealism combines new advances in technology and the pop art movement, with artists rejecting visible brushstrokes and adopting photoshop aesthetics. The concept, while simple, reveals incredible skill as the artist replicates a mirror image of their subject matter. Artists like CJ Hendry and Michael Zavros use their paintings and drawings to bring everyday objects to life through a pop aesthetic, at times, layering with symbolism.

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Bad Dad by Michael Zavros

Zavros’ work, in particular, inspires a sense of mystic realism through symbolism. Representing life, self, youth, and decay, bunches of ornate flowers, his children or his own body appears throughout his paintings. The 2013 oil on canvas, Bad Dad, sees Zavros’ body weakly supported on a blow-up rabbit pool toy; the artist gazing at his own reflection. Bad Dad, and in the same vein, The Sunbather (2015), invites Greek mythology of Narcissus who died falling after his own reflection in a pool of water.

CJ Hendry, originally Brisbane-based but now on a career-high in New York, continues the trompe l’oeil on canvas, walls, and to her 480K+ followers on Instagram. Most could agree that Hendry is the Courbet of modern realism. Watching the works come together online is beyond stunning; you would struggle to believe they were created with pencils and paintbrushes alone. Instagram has also been part of her success; she has by-passed the classic route of gallery management and organises her own exhibitions and sales.

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Kash Kurrency by CJ Hendry

With the artworks depicting pools, Hermes Birkin bags, $100 bills with Kanye West’s face on it, the revival of realism invites a critique of the invention of social media and the ‘selfie’ camera. However, it also brings a sense of mysticism and wonder at the amazement of artistry skill — like with pop; it brings the fun back to art.

Cropped Monique Close Up


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