Hyperrealism–the Movement that promotes basic skills as something unusual, marvellous and thrilling.
I love paint; great succulent wodges, smears, wriggles and trickles of oils that develop lives of their own and tell you more about the subject than any number of Hyperrealist reproductions.
They become the subject, not simply show it. So yes, I start with a bias but please bear me out.
Hyperrealism, super realism, call it what you will, has always struck me as clever but usually lacking everything except the accurate reproduction of texture, volume and form.
Although, heralded as movements, they used to be as a part of most professional artists’ battery of skills to be used as and when required to enhance a visual statement.
Rembrandt among thousands of his time made fur look real enough to stroke, reproduced luxurious brocades that almost rustled and handled flesh tones beautifully.
What made him so special was that this was an adjunct what he had to say tell us about the human condition, our predicament, about youthful vibrancy, then ageing and loss. And without that you had just lifelike flesh and snugly fur.
Leonardo da Vinci and his pupils used what we now call Hyperrealism almost as a throwaway, a recent example being the crystal orb signifying the sphere of the heavens held by Christ in Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World) painted around 1500.
Completed just a few years later, the wounds in Matthias Grunewald’s Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece still make people flinch.
It is something they all learnt to do. Of course, some were better than others and those are the ones we remember. Yet nowadays a means to an end has become the end in itself. We are busy painting the warts and forget the face.
Dramatic scale can add interest but in this region with the exception of the Kenyan Clavers Odhiambo there is not a lot of that on show.
Perhaps this flaunting of hyperrealism has come about too because such skills are rare today. They are hard to acquire, what with the TV in the corner and video games. Why bother to learn them?
Hyperrealism is popular too because it encourages us to look again at things we often take for granted; the people around us, reflections, close-ups of wildlife we might otherwise miss.
And of course the artists want us to admire their skill.
The fact that when such skills do surface they promptly have Movements devoted to them strikes me as over-excitable and odd, rather like the different ratings of tyre compounds in Formula l racing; Soft, Supersoft, Hypersoft…it makes my head spin faster than the wheels.
And it was spinning faster still after visiting a show called Keeping it Real, curated by David Gathumbi for the Polka Dot Art Gallery at the Ikigai Centre off General Mathenge Road in Nairobi.
There six artists are showing some 15 paintings and drawings predicated on their ability to represent precisely what they see before them in the hope it will magnify their images in our senses so they becomes even more real than reality.
Yes, yes, Hyperreal!
Eddy Ochieng can do it…with oils on canvas, often of himself with water pouring over his head and sometimes, as in the Untitled portrait of an old man, with every pore described.
Ochieng’s occasional props–the water, and in one case a monocle–add a touch of surrealist zing to his work. He uses scale now and then but not here.
Fred McRota can do it too…in pencil on paper with a snarling leopard that could easily be mistaken for a photograph (and at the preview, frequently was).
K.M. Kabue can do it, by projecting his pride in the nation through meticulous drawings on paper of freedom fighters and, no contradiction here, of beautiful young women.
Joseph Guama can certainly do it with graphite and charcoal on paper, drawing those around him. A young man with a bloodied head is among these. Powerful and intriguing.
Damba Musoke can do it in a rather laboured way, with portraits of endangered animals in white acrylic paint on black canvas; a step up I guess from those things you see in curio shops and at airports of white figures on black velvet.
And Peris Kimani can sort of do it…a developing talent with an obvious love of her subjects but still a slight woodenness about the features, as in Innocence, her drawing of a child. But with practice she will get there for sure.
Yep, they can all do it or are getting there. But the question is: Why are they doing it and what are they going to do with it now they have got it and are doing it all the time?
Guama gives the game away in the catalogue when he states, “The long and meticulous process behind each of my works has become a kind of therapy for myself.”
See. There is a reason after all.