The paint­ings

They might look like pho­to­graphs, but th­ese im­ages are paint­ings – the ex­tra­or­di­nary work of hy­per­real artist Dru Blair. By Mike Peake

Friday - - News -

that are pic­ture per­fect

News­flash: the pho­tos you’re look­ing at are not ac­tu­ally pho­tos, they’re paint­ings. Once you’ve got your head around that, we’ve an­other sur­prise in store: they’re not even copied from pho­to­graphs – for the most part, the im­ages only ever ex­isted in the mind of the artist un­til he de­cided to put them down on can­vas.

Amer­i­can Dru Blair is one of the world’s top hy­per­real artists, and you’re cer­tainly not alone if you’re still scratch­ing your head and scream­ing, “But it is a photo!”

Hy­per­re­al­ism has its roots in the re­al­ism move­ment of the mid 1800s and is a con­tin­u­a­tion of pho­to­re­al­ism, a rather flat artis­tic fad of the 1960s. Whereas pho­to­re­al­ists got a kick out of copy­ing pho­to­graphs as faith­fully as they could, to­day’s hy­per­real artists go one step fur­ther. Their aim is to bring the im­age to life – to make it seem so real that you could al­most touch it. And its ap­peal is fast­grow­ing, as ev­i­denced by some of the prices the works of the best artists com­mand at auc­tions.

For Dru, 53, hy­per­re­al­ism is a way for him to test him­self. “I like to at­tempt paint­ings which seem im­pos­si­ble to me,” he says. “They be­come like an ad­ver­sary, bent on my fail­ure. If I suc­ceed, there is sat­is­fac­tion in over­com­ing that ad­ver­sity; if I fail, I take it as a les­son.”

Based in Sumter National For­est in South Carolina, Dru is your typ­i­cal, messy artist – by his own ad­mis­sion a long way short of or­gan­ised in ev­ery­day life – even if his paint­ings sug­gest the con­sum­mate per­fec­tion­ist. Sit­ting in his stu­dio for hours at a time, he lov­ingly crafts im­ages that can take days, weeks, or even months to fin­ish.

“A paint­ing be­gins with a con­cept,” he says. “That is the most chal­leng­ing as­pect, be­cause I then have to try to de­ter­mine how to trans­form that con­cept into an im­age. I think about where I want to po­si­tion the viewer and which ele­ments I want to in­clude in the paint­ing.”

Dru then starts his re­lent­less re­search of the sub­jects – be that an aero­plane, a horse or even a woman – so that he un­der­stands their colours, tex­tures and ev­ery tiny de­tail. He will oc­ca­sion­ally take pho­to­graphs for a “more fo­cused study”, but they’re just a guide. What even­tu­ally comes through on his can­vases are the prod­ucts of Dru’s imag­i­na­tion.

“Once I de­cide on a com­po­si­tion, I will make a draw­ing and when I’m happy with it I mix the acrylic colours I want and be­gin ren­der­ing the main sub­ject, start­ing with the most im­por­tant parts,” he ex­plains. “I use var­i­ous tools to build lay­ers, such as an air­brush, erasers and blades to ma­nip­u­late the paint. A typ­i­cal paint­ing takes from five to 40 hours to com­plete.”

The long­est Dru ever took on a piece was 70 hours, when paint­ing a por­trait of his friend, Floyd (left). “It took so long be­cause there are so many var­ied tex­tures to the skin,” says Dru.

In­spi­ra­tion is every­where, and Dru thinks that a trip to the Mid­dle East would pro­vide him with es­pe­cially rich pick­ings. “I’ve al­ways wanted to visit be­cause of its cul­ture, set­ting and his­tory, any of which I think would make an ex­cel­lent sub­ject to paint,” he says.

Dru orig­i­nally set his sights on a ca­reer in medicine, but be­came hooked on dig­i­tal art in col­lege and never looked back. Un­usu­ally, he doesn’t sell his orig­i­nals, pre­fer­ring to keep them and sell only re­pro­duc­tions, start­ing at $50 (Dh184) a print. “I love to hold on to

all my works but sell the prints,’’ he says. And the mar­ket is there – peo­ple love Dru’s breath­tak­ingly re­al­is­tic de­pic­tions of space shut­tles, helicopters and Amer­i­can Ea­gles – and he loves the feed­back he gets from his buy­ers.

Don­ald Eickhoff, one of his fans who bought a print, says on Dru’s Face­book page: “I could fill my house with all your works. They are very in­spi­ra­tional. I bought a copy of Air bridge 2 for my fa­ther as a Christ­mas present he loves it. He spent many years be­ing a crew chief on the KC135 so the print has spe­cial mean­ing for him.’’

Dru’s also happy to give a quick his­tory les­son on his genre of art to any­one who’s in­ter­ested. “Re­al­ism was ex­tremely pop­u­lar un­til mod­ernism came into vogue in the late 19th cen­tury,” he says. “Mod­ernism dis­carded the tra­di­tional tech­niques in art, along with the em­pha­sis on beauty and crafts­man­ship, in favour of in­no­va­tion. Re­cently, there seems to have been a resur­gence of re­al­ism and within that hy­per­re­al­ism is the most dif­fi­cult genre of art. It de­mands ac­cu­racy in ev­ery vis­ual el­e­ment, such as pro­por­tion, light, shadow, colour, per­spec­tive and so on. With­out an un­der­stand­ing of tra­di­tional meth­ods, it is not pos­si­ble for an artist to achieve hy­per­re­al­ism.”

De­spite hy­per­re­al­ism’s tech­ni­cal bril­liance, there are peo­ple, of course, who think that cre­at­ing an im­age that looks rather like a pho­to­graph is miss­ing the point.

“Most of my fel­low artists have been pos­i­tive,” shrugs Dru, though he ad­mits that peo­ple are some­times crit­i­cal when they

as­sume he has sim­ply copied a photo. “The cre­ativ­ity comes from cre­at­ing [imag­i­nary] worlds,” he states.

Dru is by no means alone in the world of hy­per­re­al­ism, and he’s also not the only one to field the oc­ca­sional crit­i­cism that the genre fails to dis­play the emo­tion you might find with more ab­stract work. Why not just use pho­to­graphs? ask crit­ics.

Al­though there are peo­ple in art who re­ject any tech­no­log­i­cal in­put, cre­atives such as Dru ar­gue there are also just as many peo­ple, if not more, who em­brace it.

It could be said that copy­ing a pho­to­graph into paint is lack­ing ex­pres­sion, but that’s not the aim of a true hy­per­re­al­ist. They would ar­gue they em­brace the pho­to­graph, as mak­ing what is ba­si­cally an en­large­ment of a photo would be mun­dane and point­less.

“I get a sense of sat­is­fac­tion from fool­ing my au­di­ence into think­ing they’re view­ing a pho­to­graph, or that I’ve copied one,” says Dru. “And I en­joy the de­light they take the mo­ment they re­alise their eye has been fooled.”

Dru, above, uses var­i­ous tools to build lay­ers into his work. This paint­ing of his friend Floyd, left, took him 70 hours to com­plete but usu­ally a work takes from five to 40 hours

Dru’s works of mil­i­tary air­craft find fans amongst those who have worked with them

A low-level fly over by an F-111 cap­tures the at­ten­tion of a group of scouts

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