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what kind of ‘real’?

what kind of ‘real’?

What this exhibition demonstrates, in a particularly fascinating way, is that there are really as many forms of ‘realism’ as there are realist artists. Many of the artists – in fact nearly all – of those shown here fall into the category of art that is now often described as ‘hyper-real’. This implies not simply a description in paint of the thing seen, but an intensification of vision. The painter invites the spectator to see more – more intensely – than he or she could manage unaided. Many of the paintings have a hallucinatory quality. It’s not going too far to say that an encounter with at least some of them is bordering on a religious experience. This, of course, is a paradox, since realist painting is generally supposed to bring us closer to what we know, rather than taking us away from it.


One of the things that the show makes one realize is that seeing may be a nearly universal experience, but that every individual tends to employ this faculty in a slightly different way. The test, here, is that it is easy to pick out different styles and approaches among the works on view. You don’t need an education in art in order to do it. From this, perhaps, one can proceed to the idea that while every painter sees differently, so does every spectator. In other words, what is offered here is essentially a series of dialogues. The subject matter is usually familiar. The ‘factuality’ of the work – if one may call it that – offers an anchor that is different from our encounters with other kinds of art. Yet, at the same time, this factuality offers a unique and exhilarating springboard for the imagination. Edward Lucie-Smith Art Historian, Critic and Author



LUIGI BENEDICENTI (born Italy 1948) The overused comparison between Caravaggio and realist painters does not really suit Luigi Benedicenti. It is somewhat reductive to confine the historical horizon only to a sole artist, even of such skilfulness as the Lombard master. The work of Benedicenti is deeply rooted in the still-life tradition that sprouted in Europe in the late XVI century, embodied by such masters as Bosschaert the Elder and Bruegel the Elder, whose accurately descriptive paintings were often employed for scientific purposes. Such naturalism reached its apogee during the XVII century in Rome and Naples with painters as Pietro Paolo Bonzi, Giovan Battista Ruoppolo or Giuseppe Recco specialised in the production of lavish still-lives, swarming with groceries, bovine carcases, game, shining fish and iridescent shellfish of unusual shape. Notwithstanding Luigi Benedicenti has a strong independent personality which cannot be fully explained through the prism of his precursors. After having deeply meditated on their works, absorbed the symbolic value, Luigi moved away from this genre. He came up with a completely new style, what the critic Claudio Malberti defined as ‘Realismo Estremo’ or ‘Extreme Realism’. Benedicenti replaces the fish and meat that used to decorate the dining rooms of the leisure class with contemporary Italian patisserie, ice cream and classy drinks. However the change in subject matter is not the only innovation introduced by Benedicenti. Luigi is a son of our times and as such he uses all the technical means at his disposal. The strong artificial lights utilized during the early stages of his paintings allow him to get the essence of the subject depicted and convey the same sensorial feelings that the object would produce in real life. Benedicenti’s style – clear, immediate, shiny of multicoloured reflections – is the result of years of intense study and tireless practice.

1 Nel Vassoio oil on canvas 103 x 170 cm (41 x 67 in)

2 La Dolce Idea oil on canvas 70 x 102 cm (28 x 40 in)

3 Mondrian‌ e le bugie oil on canvas 74 x 96 cm (29 x 38 in)

ROBERTO BERNARDI (born Italy 1974) Roberto Bernardi’s first works date from the mid-eighties, and whilst a young student he dedicated himself to the study of Renaissance painting and pictorial technique, which later proved to be extremely important in the development of his personal creativity. In 1993 he moved to Rome, where he worked as a restorer in the church of San Fransesco a Ripa. After this experience, he dedicated himself full-time to the creation of his own hyper-realist works. The realistic elements of the composition are filtered through a photographic image resulting in a highly technological reproduction. This image is then successfully translated, using the traditional techniques of oil painting on canvas, to a perfect image of reality. Despite adopting the aid of advanced photo technology, his personal translation of his subjects follows a classical line, such as the traditional priming of the canvas, as practised by the painters of the 16 th and 17 th centuries, combined with the perfection of oil painting technique. Bernardi’s still life follows a mould of classic compositions with great emphasis on the contrast of lightness and transparency further enhanced by his ability to bring out light directly from the objects represented as if they themselves had the capacity to emit light. His paintings are in numerous public and private collections throughout the world.

4 Vagabondi oil on canvas 70 x 80 cm (28 x 31 in)

5 Il Sorriso del Poeta oil on canvas 70 x 80 cm (28 x 31 in)

6 Il Taglio oil on canvas 70 x 90 cm (28 x 35 in)

NEIL DOUGLAS (born England 1978) Throughout his childhood, Douglas experienced the landscapes of America only through indirect media such as photography, television and film. He was fascinated by the iconic and absorbing images of Hollywood films and brand advertising. His paintings portray this idolised vision of Americana he grew up with, an America void of political or social connotations. They are escapist yet realistic representations of everyday life, expertly captured in the photorealist style.  When viewing Douglas’ work, one can clearly recognise the influence of certain pioneers of Photorealism, such as Richard Estes, Ralph Goings and John Salt. Douglas shares their ability to painstakingly recreate the complex visual details of American life, be it in the reflection of a cafeteria window, the sheen on a car bonnet or the neon billboard sign, which hangs over a music hall. His meticulous renderings of the Manhattan skyline are perfect demonstrations of this skill and craftsmanship he possesses as a painter.

7 Snapple acrylic on canvas 120 x 84 cm (47 x 33 in)

8 Winter in New York acrylic on canvas 84 x 120 cm (33 x 47 in)

PARK JIHYE (born Korea 1983) Park Jihye is a meticulous painter who concerns herself primarily with depictions of women. These women are often caught from behind, mid-movement. The lifelike qualities of her paintings capture the atmosphere of a specific moment in time. She has the ability of engaging the viewer into a time sequence by painstakingly capturing figures in movement. Without tension or preoccupation, her characters become familiar to the viewer and her paintings deny passive observation and encourage total absorption within the moment.

9 Regard 0906 oil on canvas 146 x 97 cm (57 x 38 in)

10 Regard 0905 oil on canvas 194 x 130 cm (76 x 51 in)

11 Gesture 1001 oil on canvas 97 x 146 cm (38 x 57 in)

12 Regard 0907 oil on canvas 130 x 194 cm (51 x 76 in)

PHILIP MUÑOZ (born England 1980) Muñoz’s work is concerned with the notion of glamour and its role in social identity. He is particularly interested in the idea of beauty through transformation and the concept of the contemporary sublime. Digital photography is an essential tool in his work. It creates an emotional platform to connect with the subject, whilst the staging and the artificiality of the photo shoot serve to enhance the visual language of the imagery and the subsequent painting. Muñoz is a self-taught painter having graduated in a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Bristol. He has been an active resident of Jamaica Street Studios in Bristol since 2006

13 How Many Is Too Many oil on canvas 120 x 120 cm (47 x 47 in)

14 Girl with Red Hair oil on canvas 86 x 57 cm (34 x 22 in)

15 Noughties Girl oil on canvas 80 x 120 cm (31 x 47 in)

16 Another Pretty Face oil on canvas 125 x 125 cm (49 x 49 in)

17 Jess oil on canvas 76 x 61 cm (30 x 24 in)

JUAN BAUTISTA NIETO (born Spain 1963) Nieto’s work presents an exaggerated obsession with recreating a reality, which reaches beyond the precise representation of a photograph. He transcends the theme and concept of hyperrealism using it as a vehicle to take us onto another level wherein he achieves an extraordinary kind of intensity, which paradoxically creates a distinct feeling of unreality. His technique is equally obsessive as well as demanding and exhaustive. Every facet of his subject is depicted with a minute and impersonal exactitude of detail. His materials are oil and acrylic combined with air brush techniques employed to build an accumulation of delicate and continuous layers of shades and multiple tones of light, shadows and density. In common with other hyperrealist painters, he produces very few paintings each year and his large works take between six to nine months to complete. With some justification Nieto is regarded within Spanish art circles as one of the foremost exponents of hyper-realism in Spain today. 

18 Culpa acrylic on panel 53 x 122 cm (21 x 48 in)

19 Bodegon Sostenido  acrylic on panel 100 x 100 cm (39 x 39 in)

RAPHAELLA SPENCE (born England 1978) Raphaella Spence’s family travelled to France where she spent the first eight years of her life. When they returned to London she continued her studies and her interest in art began to emerge. Her initial works were academic still-life paintings. At age twelve her family moved definitively to Italy where she completed her studies at the St. Georges English School in Rome. Influenced by views of the Umbrian countryside, Spence turned toward the creation of the Photorealist landscape. In 2000 she had her first solo exhibition in Italy, obtaining public recognition and that of the critics. In 2003 she had her first solo exhibition in the United States in New York followed by her first London solo exhibition at the Albemarle Gallery in 2004. Since then her paintings have been included in numerous group exhibitions in Europe and the USA. Spence has received critical recognition for her work in widely circulated newspapers and magazines including The International Herald Tribune, The Spectator, Arte di Giorgio Mondadori, Panorama, La Repubblica, Corriere della Sera and II Messaggero. The paintings of Raphaella Spence are included in private, public and corporate collections throughout the United States of America, Canada, England, Russia, Italy, Austria and Germany.

20 Primavera oil on canvas 70 x 90 cm (28 x 35 in)

21 La Protagonista oil on canvas 80 x 55 cm (31 x 22 in)

22 Il Colore del Tempo oil on canvas 70 x 45 cm (28 x 18 in)

LUCIANO VENTRONE (born Italy 1942) Luciano Ventrone is regarded by the Italian art establishment, museums, curators and critics as one of the leading exponents of his genre. He is loved, admired and respected by the Italian people, collected by the Italian Government, Corporate Institutions and avid collectors to such extent that his one-man shows are complete sell-outs. Described as ‘hyper-realist’ the Art Historian and Critic, Edward Lucie-Smith states, “Ventrone is often categorized as a ‘hyper-realist’. This implies that his work is somehow related to photography. As anyone who has looked at his paintings carefully will know, this is not the case. Far from offering us the somewhat flattened version of physical forms typical of the monocular vision of the camera, his paintings have an almost overwhelming solidity and physical presence, to the point where the nearest shapes seem ready to break through the front plane of the canvas. Despite any comparisons that can be made to the art of the past, whether to Caravaggio or to any other artist, this is painting that is intransigently modern, completely of our own day.” His paintings are in numerous public and private collections worldwide including Romano Prodi (former Italian Prime Minister), the Modern Art Collection of the Italian Senate, Barilla Collection, Federico Zeri Foundation, and the President of United Arab Emirates Collection.

23 Vortici oil on linen 60 x 120 cm (24 x 47 in)

24 Come Nuvole oil on linen 70 x 80 cm (28 x 31 in)

25 Contemplazione oil on linen 110 x 150 cm (43 x 59 in)

26 Notte Estiva oil on linen 50 x 70 cm (20 x 28 in)

27 Lievi Pensieri oil on linen 70 x 80 cm (28 x 31 in)

NATHAN WALSH (born England 1972) Walsh’s work attempts to present a credible space, which whilst making reference to the visible world, and documentary photography obeys its own distinct logic. From determining a horizon line at the start of the process to spraying a final glaze of colour, he controls the nature of the world he presents to the viewer. Whether simply changing the size of a building or introducing a structure found on Google Earth, he likes the idea of inventing another reality, familiar in some ways to us but fundamentally of his own making. This is most evident at the drawing stage of the work, which is the most open-ended and creative part of his process. Working with a box of pencils and an eraser Walsh will draw and redraw buildings, vanishing points will be shifted and materials rearranged. At this point he aims to take ownership of the raw information he is working with and not let it dictate what is happening. Creating an urban landscape within its own perspectival space has more potential than simply duplicating the flatness of a photograph. Whilst a camera lens or software package can suggest a mechanical space this is at odds with how we actually experience reality. Walsh is interested in creating paintings where the viewer feels they can enter into and move around, and talk of the world we live in.

28 Metropolis oil on archival polyester 211 x 140 cm (83 x 55 in)

29 Apple oil on linen 100 x 127 cm (39 x 50 in)

30 Lloyds Vertical oil on linen 204 x 125 cm (80 x 49 in)

31 Hot Specialties oil on linen 100 x 125 cm (39 x 49 in)

YUN WEEDONG (born Korea 1982) Yun Weedong masterfully utilizes watercolours to create hyper-realist images of human figures. Though the characters initially appear to be beautiful, upon closer inspection their flaws are uncovered – dirty fingernails, body hair, veins and wrinkles – and the paintings take on remarkable emotion with each imperfection. Often painted against a dark background, his figures fade in and out of the darkness, as if drifting precariously through life and death with ashen skin. Deeply psychological, these paintings play on our religious understandings of life, death and afterlife.

32 Contrast 62 watercolour on paper 110 x 56 cm (43 x 22 in)

33 Contrast 29 watercolour on paper 112 x 145 cm (44 x 57 in)



What kind of 'real'?  

A collective exhibition of paintings by renowned Hyper-realist painters: Luigi Benedicenti, Roberto Bernardi, Neil Douglas, Park Jihye, Phil...

What kind of 'real'?  

A collective exhibition of paintings by renowned Hyper-realist painters: Luigi Benedicenti, Roberto Bernardi, Neil Douglas, Park Jihye, Phil...