Thursday, November 20, 2008

True Lies: Distorting Reality in Hyperrealist Art

It has been said that art imitates life, but through whose reality? Hyperrealist artists successfully imitate life while simultaneously exaggerating it. In doing so, they can confuse and control a viewer’s reality leaving them questioning what is real and what is not.

Hyperrealism is a recent movement in art, which exists as an outgrowth of the Photorealism movement of the late 1950s. In fact, the French word Hyperealisme was coined in 1973 to mean photorealism. Unlike photorealism, which results in painting directly from a photograph, hyperrealism incorporates the use of photographs as reference, but distorts highly-realistic work and blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Examples of common hyperrealities are television (namely “reality” TV), movies and amusement parks.

Artist: Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck is an Australian hyperrealist sculptor who currently works in England. Mueck began his artistic career as a modelmaker, puppeteer, and animatronics/prop creator, making a name for himself through children’s television shows (Sesame Street, The Muppets), movies (Jim Henson’s Labyrinth starring David Bowie), and advertising. While creating photorealistic animatronics and props for the advertising industry through his own company in London, Mueck came to the conclusion that “photography pretty much destroys the physical presence of the original object” ( He then began experimenting with fine art and sculpture using fiberglass, silicone, acrylic, and cast models made of clay.

Mueck’s sculptures are highly-realistic, yet under- or overexaggerated, inciting curiosity and immediate reaction. His attention to detail with regard to skin folds, hair, and the like is incredible. The “psychological confrontation for the viewer is to recognize and assimilate two contradictory realities” ( the human figure depicted with detail and care and the apparent distortion of size. His sculptures are recognizable yet abnormal, and he controls the experience of the viewers by confusing them.

Untitled (Boy) is a larger-than-life sculpture of a what appears to be a teenage boy ducking or crouching in fear of the viewer. The boy gazes out over the viewer with a look of apprehension and guilt. He is too big for his surroundings; yet he is trying to hide from them. Hiding from anyone or anything is virtually impossible for this boy, considering his absurd size.

Untitled (Boy), 1991, Ron Mueck, mixed media, 16.4 ft.

In Bed is a 5 x 21.25 x 13 ft. sculpture of what appears to be a worried or sickly woman lying in bed. It is as if she is unaware of her audience and is caught in deep thought as she stares out a window or into space. Her body is hidden under a white sheet and it is not clear if she is wearing clothing.

In Bed, 2005, Ron Mueck, mixed media, 5 x 21.25 x 13 ft.

Artist: Audrey Flack

Audrey Flack started her career as one of the major American photorealists of the 1970s. In the early 1980s, however, she began experimenting with dye transfer photography and sculpture and has put her painting career to rest. Even though Audrey Flack is considered a photorealist, many also consider her work hyperrealist. Her use of color, paint application, subject matter, and composition add a dreamy or fantastical quality to completed paintings.

Marilyn (Vanitas), 1997, Audrey Flack, oil over acrylic, 96 x 96 in.

Marilyn (Vanitas) is based on both the Dutch vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries as well as the famous celebrity and Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. Flack uses several different objects and colors to convey a message about Marilyn Monroe as the viewer’s eye moves around the circular pattern the objects create. Flack has included specific objects that are symbolic of several themes related to life and death. “To Flack, Marilyn Monroe represented a deep pain and a deep beauty. She affected both men and women equally and that is why Flack considers this painting androgynous” (

Artist: Walt Disney & Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Disneyland, 1955. Anaheim, CA. 77 ft. (total height).

Walt Disney, 1966.

Walt Disney was a pioneer, visionary and, more importantly, a dreamer. Through his animated movies, characters and the design and construction of both Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, in 1954 (opened 1955) and in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL, in 1971, he has left his legacy of imagination and innovation.

Disneyland, the first of the conceptual theme parks created by Walt Disney, is fantasy within reality. Walt Disney used both his imagination and his childhood roots to form the ideas for the look and feel of the park. Visitors enter another world when they enter Disneyland, where they are bombarded with sensory experiences through imagery, color, sound, smells, and movement. Once visitors cross into Disneyland, they seemingly leave one reality and enter another. Since its opening day, Disneyland has been visited by over 515 million guests.

At Disneyland, designers created the first physical space conceptualized as an interactive experience using cinemagraphic storytelling devices to choreograph the free movements of visitors through a three dimensional fantasy movie. Sequences of spaces and transitions were carefully planned to combine disparate elements into a cohesive whole (

Studio Activity: My Personal Hyperreality

Look around your home and gather five, simple 3-D shapes or objects, such as boxes and cans, of different sizes. Set up a still life with the objects, to resemble a landscape or city. Place very small items (such as push pins or miniatures) in your still life to further create a feeling of scale and location. Choose a theme or idea for your still life (i.e, amusement park, city, national park). Pick a viewpoint that appeals to you and take 15 minutes to sketch a still life in 2B pencil or conte crayon and apply your own imaginative effects and distortions to create an alternate reality. Use heightened color to further the effect. Name your ‘hyperreality’ and describe it in 2-3 sentences.

Links (***please be advised that this video contains representational nudity.)


David. (Sept. 14, 2007) Ron Mueck:
Hyperrealist Sculptor. Retrieved March 30,
2008 from http://paintalicious.

Flack, Audrey. (1977). Marilyn (Vanitas).
Retrieved March 30, 2008 from http://cda.

Lippencott, James. (2005). Disneyland hits the Big
Five Oh. Retrieved March 30,2008

Meisel, Louis K. (1993). Audrey Flack. Photorealism
Since 1980, 205.

Sutton, Polly. (2001) 49th Venice Biennale: Ron
Mueck’s “Boy”. Retrieved March 30, 2008

1 comment:

Laura said...

I would love to be a student of yours. You are always coming up with fascinating topics and lessons ideas.