A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Painting beyond Photorealism / Contextomy – Hyper-realism by Richard Haden

Timothy Buwalda, Construct, 2009. Oil on canvas. 72 x 48 inches. Courtesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery.

This conversation begins in a place. A place that is similar to a salon, but this place is an extension of virtual space; a place built out of digitally informed space. This digital salon place, this virtual space, is called blog. It is readable and writable (that is made possible by a two way communication device i.e. the comment box). Like virtual space, real space is also made up of informed space – quite often both readable and writable.

Painting is a real place too, made of 2-d space or what will be described later as Zero dimensional space. It too is a carrier of information – it is readable and mentally writable.

Robert Bechtle, Alameda Gran Torino, 1974. Oil on canvas, 48 x 69 inches.

Photorealism, which emerged in the late 60’s and early 70’s, is like all realist painting before it a mimetic referent to our world. This information is made available to us by the artist or auteur – we choose to merely consume it or react to it. I like to yell at it sometimes too. Unlike other historical realism, Photorealism, as stated by its name, refers to a photograph (technical image) first, as source from which all else follows; in most cases as a filtered world – followed by less.

The photograph, to which Photorealism depends, is the byproduct of the mechanical process which translates bits of a 3-d world to a reduced 2-d portable plane. In Platonic idealism, art represents the third and most repugnant and redundant version of the ideal form. The first form being the divine ideal, the second form is crafted for utilitarian purpose, while the third form – the artwork – is the most useless simulacrum of the previous two. To Plato, the photograph would have been just another useless medium; a gimmick.

Steve McQueen-Mustang…a still from Bullitt, 1968

In photorealism there is yet another step – a fourth step away from the Platonic ideal. By reproducing a photograph in paint, one strikes a mortal blow at old Uncle Plato.

Plato (Greek Bust).

Hyper-realism, a contemporary of Photorealism.

As Photorealism gave way to yet another more heightened state of realism, Plato, if not already dead from premonitions of the modern world, would have been further tortured by Hyper-realism’s most meticulously detailed constructions and illusions of not an ideal world, but an informed world; a new reality not seen in the original photograph. This introduction of hyper-reality serves not a fixed place or a fixed reality, but a hyper-real ideal transmission of information – this being the point of departure for this text.

If photo-realism inserts the photograph as an added layer of simulacrum between the viewer and that elusive Platonic Ideal, hyper-realism totally shifts the point of view. Hyper-reality no longer resides in an Ideal; it exists in the shifting contexts and intellectual interplay of agreed meaning. To glimpse the hyper-real we must be always alert. If we blink and pause we can fall short of maintaining the hyper-gaze or hyper-vigilance needed – we fall out of Hyper-space. It is the goal of this space to experience other dimensions that free us from the limitations of linear narratives; the chronological sequencing that anchors us to the old schools of western cannon. I think the point of navigating with such freedom is to regain the natural agency and radical freedom we once had by rediscovering and drifting through rearranged traces of things already done. By doing so we navigate and rearrange the smallest bits of ‘meme’ (postulated units or elements of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, that get transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena) toward a more transparent and useful reassessment of meaning…by shuffling reference and mixing information we construct meaning (Hume’s creativity in a nut shell).

The point to any art form is never fully expressed in a ‘How To’ manual. Art’s purpose is always to expound on the inarticulate. However, an expanded field of articulated understanding is derived through a salon-like space that we, virtually, know how to relate to. Like architectural space, the salon space is the place for constructing theoretical foundations from group dynamics of dialectical propositioning, contradictions, oppositions and so on. What keeps art renewed and fresh is a new hyperlinked understanding; a healthy rejuvenation of social relations. These discursive relations remind us that Romantic isolation is so yesterday…

Our contemporary world is an expanded field of shifting cycles of information. For instance, Villem Flusser describes Western development by epochs: the mythic-magical; the historical (equated with writing, linear time, and later with logical reason); and the post-historical (equated with telematics and digital images). For Flusser each of epochs is linked to a distinct method of thinking and perception. The linear writing introduced during the historical epoch produced causal explanations to which alphabetical codes have been attached. Human logical progression moved from alphabetical code to numerical code and recently to digital code. This break from deeply rooted alphanumerical code offers other modalities which frees us from the pressure of linearity. This new field bares important consequences to the power of image making and reception.

According to Flusser: “Images are no longer two-dimensional translations of a four-dimensional world. They are two-dimensional planes created from zero-dimensional elements. Synthetic images are calculations, pure abstractions as “pure aesthetics.”

Thus he concluded that digital images or for our case here, painted images, are no longer ontologically and epistemologically suspicious of simulacra, as they once were for Plato. The leap from a linear logic into the zero-dimension of computations and information reassessment is as he says: “a conceptual leap of the imagination”.

To better understand the finer points of whatever it is that I am trying to say, I offer images by various artists. These images serve as examples of how image making and image layering change through re-articulation and juxtaposition.

Robert Bechtle, 61 Pontiac, 1968 – 69. Oil on canvas.

Robert Bechtle is a good example of an old school photorealist whose older work still holds contemporary value and relevance. His work insists that life remains trapped in the surface of his work. Unlike other photorealists who drained meaning or sentiment from their work, Bechtle leaves us with a portrait or an autobiographical look of an honest man who holds on to potential. His paintings leave a trace of what each scene is, as opposed to was. His window is not a historical recollection; it is a hyper-glance that carries mood altering awareness that elevates his brush strokes to the level of pixilated prank. Bechtle is misbehaving as he whimsically tries to show us the perils of taking vacation photos. His work is intoxicating and leaves me a bit drunk off the pixels of his master craft and stroke – regardless of how humble as he appears to be.

Robert Bechtle stretches between the ‘ism’ of the photo-real and the hyper-real. His older work shows us the world of 60’s and 70’s suburbia from which all his imagery is crated, packaged and delivered to us by way of slippery wit and oil. He shows us the suburban Bay area lifestyle, making use of his family, cars, garages and houses as loaded and floating signifiers.

Timothy Buwalda, Stance, 2009, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery.

Timothy Buwalda, who opens his second solo exhibition, ‘Dislocation’ at Fredric Snitzer Gallery tomorrow nicely illustrates a mood beyond Bechtle’s deadpan sense of humor, stressing the once proud Pontiac GTO as Icon in waiting. The GTO of Bechtle’s day is still proud and standing firm, but in the haze of a Turner-like atmosphere. This contextomy, or taking out of context, shifts the viewer beyond realism to the hyper-real intersection of Romantic sunsets and Miami junkyards. Buwalda’s post industrial painting shows the fascination with retrofitting his work. His images are not about death, they are about a second chance. The car waits to be recycled while across the grave yard of car carcasses there exists a whiff of sentiment flowing from old fabric that once played host to many back seat romances. At the perimeter of this malaise of nostalgic curiosity grows the early canopy of what was once dense forestation. Unlike the romantic painters, Buwalda gives us a good look at nature without all the baggage of the Kantian sublime. He speaks in opposition to the abyss by painting slick oils of suspended growth. Insurgent as they want to be, but hanging with the GTO waiting for its time to be restored. In other words, Turner’s romantic cinematic is placed on the information side of the subliminal and projected from the walls to our minds.

Shay Kun, Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted, 2008. Oil on canvas.16 x 20 inches.

Shay Kun, who recently showed at David Castillo Gallery, is another artist who uses all the same strategies, but in a busier way. I think he takes a riskier approach to the hyper-real program by flirting with and risking a facile reaction by the reader/viewer and/or writer.

His risk lies in courting the parapet of surreal pastiche. He primes the canvas with distinct styles and recognizable images, each of which is so clearly delineated that they risk becoming single meaning symbols. He avoids this however by keeping up a well crafted and interesting dialectic by arguing causes through genre. This tact seems to be his success as clever titles set the course for what becomes a shopping spree of historical posturing. However, the facile trap is always waiting in the wings for him if he falls from the grace of hyper-space.

It appears all too clear that his ability to paint enables him to orchestrate the flow of information and image complexity to the maximum throttle of potential overload. He also piques my curiosity by his references to social realism as though he were waxing nostalgic for possible economic salvation by the reemergence of the WPA (works progress administration) of the new deal.

As it states in Shay Kun’s recent press release for an exhibition at the David Castillo Gallery:

“Shay Kun’s Opportunities multiply as they are seized presents a spiritual almanac that unites Himalayan clefts and the shallows of the Hudson River School; a leisurely hot air balloon and the coveralls of industrial unionists; the Bobbsey twins and G.I. Joe. His oil on canvas works recall plein air painting, psychedelic exploration, and science fiction fanzines. Titles such as ‘Put aside the alienation’ and ‘Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens’ allow space for the narrative voice of his landscapes to easily incorporate Grandma’s parabolic musings, calculated propaganda, and the script of an undiscovered Alejandro Jodorowsky film.

However, a prolonged look at ‘Opportunities multiply as they are seized’ seems to suggest that despite the collage-like harmony of Kun’s imagery, Thomas Cole would shake his head at nature’s grandeur populated by human invaders—tourists, adventurists, and workers from all social strata. Although these interlopers and the traces of their occupation do not overwhelm the sublimity of nature, they do question the meaning of progress, the possibility of symbiosis, and whether the spiritual cognizance Cole and his colleagues ascribed to the outdoors stem from unadulterated nature alone.”

As Kun’s work appears to fill the criteria in the above press release, I think he meets the challenge in this article’s release as well. Hyper-realism offers us the technically painted image made fresh by new associations and as such a much sharper vision in a parallel plane of hyperreal space. By maintaining a hyper conscious state of being, we who are of the digital age maintain a game-like use of that manipulatable meme that can potentially turn innocuous meaning into weaponized propaganda. Through sacrifice and perseverance both Shay Kun and Buwalda offer up a catalyzed consciousness through which we gain better vision along a broken path of narrative through the ahistorical ports of entry.

Every art form tries to avoid the facile path… “I am not concerned…with offering any facile solution for so complex a problem.” — T. S. Eliot.


This text was contributed by Richard Haden.


For more information on Timothy Buwalda please visit:

For more information on Shay Kun please visit: and

For more information on this author please see our Writers Page



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Painting beyond Photorealism / Contextomy – Hyper-realism by Richard Haden