10th - 13th Oct 2024Saatchi Gallery, London

Realism in Art

Gilbert Ryu, Dusty school lunch tools, 2016, Pigment on museo silver rag, 60✕40cm

The search for realism often recurs in contemporary art as it is a way to create witnessed and engaged works. Today we will focus on two artists who represent reality in different ways: Gilbert Ryu who makes documentary photography and James Early who makes hyperrealistic paintings.

James Early, Syrian Shadows, Original, 2020, Oil on canvas, 51✕76cm

At the onset of documentary photography, photographers claimed not to betray the subject, not to embellish it, nor alter reality; they stood far from the aesthetic perspective. The goal is to show reality as it is. This type of photography has long been used as a tool for social denunciation, such as the famous photos of immigrants taken at Ellis Island by Lewis Hine who wanted to show the immigration process in the United States.

Gilbert Ryu is a Korean photographer who produces a series of photos in Cameroon entitled “Their Life”. Here he tries to capture a place that is foreign to him and the way he perceives the different landscapes and people he meets. His photos show everyday scenes of the Cameroonians: their streets, their traditions, their festivals, the children at school, etc. Their lives seem ordinary in their eyes, but these are new and unfamiliar moments for us. Therefore, the ordinary becomes important. This style of photography series broadens the viewer’s horizon by showing them distant places, and cultures that are perhaps little known.

Gilbert Ryu, Taking pictures, 2016, Pigment on museo silver rag, 60✕40cm

Hyperrealistic sculptors and painters have always relied on photographs as a reference to be able to faithfully recreate an image. Hyperrealistic art requires the artist to create an image that is as realistic as possible, as it is essentially a representation of reality. Often the work is merely distinguishable from the reference. These artworks are produced using a variety of advanced techniques such as shading and subtle lighting effects to create a true “photo” effect.

James Early, I see the Man everywhere, Original, 2020, Oil on canvas, 40✕60cm

James Early, The Resilient King of Southampton, Original, 2021, Oil on canvas, 52✕77cm

James Early is a British painter who is known for his hyperrealistic paintings that aim to raise awareness of issues such as war, homelessness, racism, etc. His paintings are inspired by photographs but are not exact representations. He will for example add a background behind the model to accentuate his message, as can be seen in “I see the Man everywhere” (2020) where silhouettes of soldiers are depicted behind a young Afghan boy, representing thus the constant danger that looms over Afghans. He paints with emotion and moves the viewer with the strong messages he conveys. Early makes the invisible visible and wants his art to scream and demand the viewer's attention.

Gilbert Ryu, Funeral event Series, 2016, Pigment on Museo silver rag, 50✕50cm

Realism offers a different perspective on life’s events, whether they are joyful, mundane, horrific, or even catastrophic. In the spirit of James Early, we want to participate in raising awareness about the war in Ukraine and therefore express our wholehearted support to the people of Ukraine.