Photorealism Painting: The Art of Optical Illusion


NATE: This episode is funded by
The Glick Fund and the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation,
who inspire philanthropy and creativity. [MUSIC PLAYING] Imagine an artist
who not only has a black belt in photorealism,
but also abstract art. That would be one of my
favorite artists, Eric Helvie. We’re here in the East
Village in New York City to check out his studio. Follow me. I’m Eric Helvie. I’m an artist. I live and work
in New York City. I was born in Portland, Oregon. But when I was nine, I
moved to South Africa and ended up at a school that
was very heavily into the arts, painting, drawing, music, and
learned a lot of base knowledge stuff that I still
am going off of. I had gotten really
into drawing. And then I started oil painting. And then it was over, you know? It was just like– it was– it clicked so
quickly in my brain. And I remember feeling– as a teenager, thinking
there was no limit to it. You know, for me, I could
go with it for forever, you know, in my mind. One of the things I
love about your paintings is the way that
you can throw down extreme skill with,
you know, realism, and then you go abstract. I mean, specifically like– tell me about these
two different paintings we’ve got going on here. Right. Well, they both started as black
and white, total photorealistic treatments. This painting here did
not– obviously did not have any of these
more aggressive marks. So I spent about
a month and a half trying to make the eye portion
as realistic as possible. From there, let it sit. It was, in my mind, finished. But for some reason,
whether it was just the way it was painted or
just my mood at the time, I just got very
dissatisfied with the image, you know, itself. And then it underwent
a bunch of changes. And so then about two years
later, we’re standing here and this is now what you see. So it– for some
reason, the month and a half of detailed
work was something that I just needed
to act against. I know when I
look at your stuff– I mean, does it
feel, like, relief? Or is it more like after
you’ve done all that and then you do the
abstract kind of, like– like you said, really
harsh lines on top of it? Like– There’s something
incredibly freeing about the destruction of an
image, especially when it’s your own image. And I remember,
when I was younger, being fascinated with art
that had been vandalized, and then thinking, well,
I don’t want to vandalize other people’s art. But I could get away
with vandalizing my own. And so then, you
know, that’s kind of where this idea came from. The level of skill you
have with photorealism– when did you start doing that? Probably when
I was about 16, I realized that I could copy
something pretty perfectly. And then, of course, you
know, as you just keep going, you acquire the skills to do it. And so now I would say that
I’m completely proficient, you know, to make any
image or anything as realistic as possible. So the illusion is complete,
at this point, in my mind. But you know, when
you get up close, the idea is that the viewer
realizes it’s painted. It falls apart. Impatience is a big– a big factor. But the patience doesn’t
really come from– it doesn’t really come from
me being a patient person, I think, as much as just really
wanting a beautiful end result and understanding
what that result or what that finished
product needs. And so then it’s a relationship. It’s a relationship. It’s not me, you know, sort
of breathing and trying to calm myself down as much
as looking at the painting, listening to what it has to
say, and then responding to it. This sort of obsessive
making was always fueled by complete
dissatisfaction with the end results. So I would do a painting and
then think, well, that’s fine, but I’m not happy with it,
and how do I make it better? So then I would have
to do another painting and then do another painting
and do another painting. And even then, when my
technical proficiency was getting to a level
that I was happy with, then the conceptual
side or the ideas weren’t where I
wanted them to be. And so then that just
kept moving me forward. And it’s interesting when
things start small like that, but you keep pushing at them,
they sort of grow on their own, or they feel like they
grow on their own. And so it seems kind of like
a very seamless trajectory or a seamless
reality to have gone from that very perilous
beginning to where I am now, you know. You can’t understand
if a painting’s good or bad if it doesn’t
already exist as a painting. And so making is the
most important thing, and then thinking about what
you’ve made come second. Any person, no matter
how old, would understand that if you really want
to achieve something, you’ll do whatever
it takes, you know? If you have a goal in your
mind, then you just go for it. NATE: If you would like to
check out more of our episodes, head over to our
YouTube channel. Be sure to subscribe so you
not only get a front row seat to new episodes,
but you also help us create more content. Thanks so much for tuning
in, and be artrageous. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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