photorealism: 1975-1990s

Michael Gorman has long been recognised as a leading Photorealist painter, part of a movement emanating from the United States in the late 1960s and soon finding expression in England. As the name suggests, work in this genre achieves the clarity of image seen in photography.

To fit with art history’s tidy chronology, Photorealism (sometimes referred to as ‘hyperrealism’ or ‘superrealism’ – the boundaries are not always distinct) is often seen as having developed in opposition to Abstract Expressionism or Minimalism.

Michael Gorman encountered this fascinating genre as a student at the University of Newcastle’s Fine Art Department in the late ’60s. He saw the use of photography and projection in the studio as a liberating technique which followed a well-established European painting tradition. Criticism of this ‘unpainterly’ technique conveniently ignored the fact that visual devices had been used since the fifteenth century as vital artists’ tools.

Gorman himself uses techniques such as scaling up from grids which is acknowledged as a method favoured by Renaissance painters. In a contemporary age of instant digital images, perhaps the artist working in the painstaking photorealist style is the most ‘painterly’ of all.

Michael Gorman at work in his Dartmoor studio, 1990s

A word on ‘Superhumanism’
As his signature style evolved, Michael Gorman recognised the resonances between the Pointillist artists of the late nineteenth century and the pixel effect in contemporary commercial printing. He would build up images in acrylic paint using a stipple technique, gradually adding areas of light, shade and colour to the canvas; a practice that generated a complex surface of minute dots giving a vibrant visual effect. This marked a shift away from the very slick, airbrushed, ultra-photographic paintings. At the time (late ’70s–early ’80s), he exhibited with The Nicholas Treadwell Gallery (36, Chiltern Street, London) and produced several paintings  which typify this style.

A group show of figurative artists represented by the gallery (including Michael Gorman, Malcolm Poynter, Robert Knight, Graham Dean, Eric Scott, Mandy Havers, Saskia de Boer, Guy Gladwell) was put together entitled ‘Superhumanism’. This show was at the core of Treadwell’s anti-art-establishment movement which succeeded as a provocative counter to the status quo. A book on these artists was published in 1979, followed in 1982 by Superhumanism 2, to coincide with a New York Superhumanism Exhibition.

Cologne Art Fair, 1977. Works by Malcolm Poynter, Michael Gorman and Robert Knight (courtesy Nick Treadwell)