Early 21st century Hyperrealism was founded upon the aesthetic principles of Photorealism. American Photorealist painter Denis Peterson, whose pioneering hyperrealist works are universally viewed as an offshoot movement of Photorealism, first used the term "Hyperrealism" to apply to the new movement and its splinter group of artists. Graham Thompson wrote "One demonstration of the way photography became assimilated into the art world is the success of photorealist painting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is also called super-realism or hyper-realism and painters like Richard Estes, Denis Peterson, Audrey Flack, and Chuck Close often worked from photographic stills to create paintings that appeared to be photographs."
However, Hyperrealism is contrasted with the literal approach found in traditional photorealist paintings of the late 20th century. Hyperrealist painters and sculptors use photographic images as a reference source from which to create a more definitive and detailed rendering, one that unlike Photorealism, often is narrative and emotive in its depictions. Photorealist painters tended to imitate photographic images, often omitting or abstracting certain finite detail in order to maintain a consistent overall pictorial design. They often consciously omitted human emotion, political value and narrative elements. The photorealistic style of painting was uniquely tight, precise, and sharply mechanical with an emphasis on mundane everyday imagery, as it was an evolvement from Pop Art.
Hyperrealism, on the other hand, although photographic in essence, can often entail a softer and much more complex focus on the subject depicted, presenting it as a living tangible object. These objects and scenes in Hyperrealism paintings and sculptures are meticulously detailed to create the illusion of a new reality not seen in the original photo. That is not to say that they are surreal, as the illusion is a convincing depiction of (simulated) reality. Textures, surfaces, lighting effects and shadows are painted to appear clearer and more distinct than the reference photo or even the actual subject itself.
Hyperrealism has its roots in the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard, ”the simulation of something which never really existed.” As such, Hyperrealists create a false reality that is a convincing illusion; one based upon a simulation of reality (the digital photograph). Hyperreal paintings and sculptures are an outgrowth of extremely high resolution images produced by digital cameras and displayed on computers. As Photorealism emulated analog photography, Hyperrealism utilizes digital imagery and expands upon it to create a new sense of reality. Hyperrealistic paintings and sculptures confront the viewer with the illusion of manipulated high resolution images though more meticulous.
Hyperrealist painters and sculptors make allowances for some mechanical means of transferring images to the canvas or mold, including preliminary drawings or grisaille underpaintings and molds. Photographic slide projections or multi media projectors are used to project images onto canvases and rudimentary techniques such as gridding may also be used to ensure accuracy. Sculptures utilize polyesters applied directly onto the human body or mold. Hyperrealism requires a high level of technical prowess and virtuosity to simulate a false reality. As such, Hyperrealism incorporates and often capitalizes upon photographic limitations such as depth of field, perspective and range of focus. Anomalies found in digital images, such as fractalization, are also exploited to emphasize their digital origins by some Hyperrealist painters, such as Chuck Close, Denis Peterson, Istvan Sandorfi, Gilles Esnault, Bert Monroy and Alicia St. Rose.
Some hyperrealists have exposed totalitarian regimes and third world military governments through their narrative depictions of the legacy of hatred and intolerance. Denis Peterson, Gottfried Helnwein and Latif Maulan depicted political and cultural deviations of societal decadence in their work. Peterson's work focused on diasporas, genocides and refugees. Helnwein developed unconventionally narrative work that centered around past, present and future deviations of the Holocaust. Maulan’s work is primarily a critique of society’s apparent disregard for the helpless, the needy and the disenfranchised. Provocative subjects include enigmatic imagery of genocides, their tragic aftermath and the ideological consequences. Thematically, these controversial hyperreal artists aggressively confronted the corrupted human condition through narrative paintings as a phenomenological medium. These lifelike paintings are an historical commentary on the grotesque mistreatment of human beings.
Hyperreal paintings and sculptures further create a tangible solidity and physical presence through subtle lighting and shading effects. Shapes, forms and areas closest to the forefront of the image visually appear beyond the frontal plane of the canvas; and in the case of sculptures, details have more clarity than in nature. Hyperrealistic images are typically ten to twenty times the size of the original photographic reference source, yet retain an extremely high resolution in color, precision and detail. Many of the paintings are achieved with an airbrush, using acrylics, oils or a combination of both. Ron Mueck’s lifelike sculptures are scaled much larger than life and finished in incredibly convincing detail through the meticulous use of polyester resins and multiple molds. Bert Monroy’s digital images appear to be actual paintings taken from photographs, yet they are fully created on computers.