Photorealism is a style of extremely naturalistic painting developed after Pop Art, especially in the USA.
The Photorealism style emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The documenta 5 in 1972 in Kassel can be regarded as its first public appearance. The paintings and sculptures of "US-American Photorealism" broke long-standing taboos that had existed above all in Germany against a depictive realism and had been created in dissociation against the art of the National Socialist era and against Socialist Realism.
The irritations arose not least from the misjudgement of the artistic intention of photorealism, whose artists were less interested in certain sections of reality than in the most exact possible translation of the mode of representation of photography into painting and the resulting effects and possibilities. The pictures, which were conceived and painted as reproductions of reproductions, appear, if they are only depicted - as they are here - in a renewed reproduction and thus reduced to what they started from, as a photograph. Characteristic is the detail naturalism that goes as far as to deceive the eye. Such a fatal confusion of reality and pictorial insecurity solidified the accusation that this art was mere copyist virtuosity, sheer photo and reality copying. What appears to be a photograph in the image, however, reveals in the original the decisive features of an interpretation of reality, a pictorial reality of its own.
The photorealists usually used one or more slides with everyday motifs from their surroundings as models. Their relationship to the content of their pictures should be neutral and as objective as possible. They preferred motifs with detailed, specific, often reflective surfaces.
Among the Photorealists, a specialism emerges in which each artist strives for technical mastery and virtuosity in a relatively limited subject area. These attributions had been lost through the elimination of the artist's personal signature. Thus Richard McLean mainly showed breeding horses and their proud owners, Chuck Close oversized head portraits, Richard Estes reflective shop windows, Robert Cottingham neon sign lettering, Ralph Going's cars and fast food restaurants, Don Eddy intact and John Salt damaged and rusted cars, David Parrish motorbikes, John Clem Clark and John Kacere girl nudes and Ben Schonzeit packaging.
In Europe, the Swiss artist Franz Gertsch in particular pursued photorealistic objectives. He was primarily concerned with the presence of his figures, with depicting the attitude to life in the 1970s. He showed his friends, a group of performance artists, and family pictures. "I have to feel in the originals the possibility of being able to use my painterly media in a way that is appropriate to the picture, to capture life" (Gertsch).