Chest out, shoulders square, a beaming smile, he shook my hands and replied “I’m a photorealist”. Slightly embarassed and trying to hide my naivety, I joked about how that was a hard attempt at competing with photography as an art and mocking the latter. Emmanuel (not real name) explained how he meant hyperrealism and only used photorealism to help me understand the concept. My argument – then-, was that painting is painting and should remain what it is, painting. Its end result, though an image, is not a photo and as such, all -isms should leave the photo- suffix exclusively to photography. After going round in circles, we ended up saving the discussion for another day.
The art in Photo- & Hyperrealism.
Though often interchangeably used, Photorealism and hyperrealism are fairly different art forms. Photorealism as a genre of art is based on the use of photographs to make paintings. In retrospect, it’s easier to understand where the photo- suffix comes from. Hyperrealism, on the other hand, is a full-fledged school of art which is an enhancement of photorealism. Hyperrealism emphasizes hugely on details, subjects and simulations of a reality that never existed unlike photorealism where these details are amiss as the purpose is to recreate the photograph studied. Simply put, hyperrealism is photorealism with emotions and narratives. This makes hyperrealism complex, yet fascinating.
It is quite interesting to find questions of whether hyperrealism an art or a show of incredible skills. While a lot may be aware of the development of hyperrealism as an art movement in the 70s, a few are confused as to how hyperrealism can stand on its own as a true art form as opposed to show of incredible painting skills. This won’t be the first time an art form would be questioned. Prior to the times when there were photography exhibitions, promoters like Alfred Stiglitz had to battle with the question of photography as an art if it’s just a trace of the subject in the photographer’s front. This is an extensive discussion on its own and art critic offered an interesting angle in his book “Way of Seeing” by positing that photographs need to have some sort of narrative to make sense. Considering the number of photography exhibitions around now, it is safe to assume that photography has been accepted as an art form. If photography, then why not hyperrealism?
“Art is a skillful creative activity, usually with an aesthetic focus.”
Breaking chains in Nigeria
Accompanying the #WeAreNigerianCreatives movement that erupted on Twitter recently was the unearthing of relatively young talents. Devoid of form restrictions, artists reckoned with the movement and were eager to share their works. One of such talented artists is Silas Onoja, a hyperrealist artist.
Silas who started painting in 2013 paints using oil on canvas. He presently promotes his works to 24, 000 followers on Instagram. His work “Verge of Freedom” is the first part of a series titled Freedom. A common element in his works is the use of water reminiscent of the legendary Fela’s “Water no get enemy”. His use of water is near perfect, it makes one argue that the paintings are instead photographs. Silas and his hyperrealism projects a false reality that one wonders if truly seeing is believing.
However, Silas is not the only one. In 2016, the internet went wild with the works of Olumide Oresegun and there’s been a steady increase in the number of hyperrealist artists coming out with their works. Amongst them is Ken Nwadiogbu, Arinze Stanley, Sheyi Alabi, Chiamonwu Ifeyinwa Joy and a couple more who all featured in an exhibition later that year at Omenka Gallery. Social media has been very instrumental in disrupting the previously closed Nigeria art community, allowing new players to come on board and promote their works to thousands of followers across multiple platforms.
As with all movements, there’s the talk of what the freedom holds. Truth is, no one knows. What we all know is that these new hyperrealist artists are building a movement, using their works to contribute to social issues and projecting their art globally. That statement is simple, yet bold: Hyperrealism is here to stay. You gotta love it!