“The illusion of verisimilitude on the painted surface,” is how Jason de Graaf describes his luminous works. At first glance unnervingly like razor sharp photographs, upon closer inspection they reveal an inner space, an alter ego as it were, and it is that of the artist. Indisputably painterly, de Graaf’s hyper realistic works chronicle his aesthetic research via masterfully precise renditions of diverse objects. Born in Montreal in 1971, de Graaf belongs to a large international family of artists, whose works fall into that category. And if Photorealism and Hyperrealism seem a nuance apart, they are indeed, although the artists would dispute this vehemently. Hyperrealism is a fairly new term, coined by a Belgian art dealer for the title of an exhibition and catalogue at his Brussels gallery in 1973. An offshoot of Photorealism, it includes such well-known names as Chuck Close, Ron Mueck, Paul Lung, and many, many others. Ultimately what distinguishes these artists is not only how well they have honed their technique but by the content, and ‘soul’ of their work.
If it were the mere aesthetics of this mercilessly commercialized style, then there would be little, indeed, to write about. Beauty and elegance dominate, although Mueck’s giant humans or Close’s intense portraits could hardly be described using these words. They do apply however to de Graaf’s acrylic paintings whose shiny, reflecting surfaces seduce the eye. De Graaf’s personal touch is instantly evident, as much in the choice of the objects as in their staging and pairing. They are posed like actors in a darkened space, each investing its role with a unique visual declaration. The glass reflects the light and encapsulates the images into a shimmering, Escheresque universe. In Amulet the glass sphere at the centre of the composition creates instant perspective, its illusionary presence holding court, with the other ‘actors’ aligned in a silent pantheon. Harking to Old Masters, it showcases de Graaf’s craftsmanship, but its mystery quickly wears thin. This cannot be said of Lux Brumalis. Where are the trees reflected in these silvery balls, hovering, suspended above a smooth, cold surface? Like windows into another dimension, they are the artist’s personal notations, memories perhaps, encased in this incredulous landscape. De Graaf studied with one of the best known Hyperrealists, Carmelo Blandino, who describes his craft as close to the practice of Buddhist monks, and notes that eventually, “the student comes to realize that he is gazing upon his own true form.” Philosophy notwithstanding, for a hyperrealist painting to have true merit, it must indeed, have a true form, and it the world of verisimilitude, it can only be inspired by the artist’s inner vision. Imbuing his paintings with “emotion, mood and mystery”, de Graaf follows in his teacher’s footsteps with aplomb. References to his interests, which include heavy metal cartoons, are reflected — no pun intended — in his striking works. The red cranberries on a white table, juxtaposed against an inky black background, look as real as they come. The glass decanter adds majestic company, but it is the white ear buds entangled in the fruit that turn this classical composition into a contemporary commentary. The duality of the image is not lost on the artist, who gave this work an equally ambiguous title, Cultivated.
But what is the ultimate goal of these works that so exquisitely trick the eye, or rather, to use the French term trompe l’oeil, deceive it? Artists since ancient Greeks aspired to present works that recreated reality, although since the explosion of Abstraction in the 20th century highly realistic paintings seemed a thing of the past. Clearly, nothing is ever passé in art, and de Graaf, stepping on the shoulders of so many before him, proves the point. With the requisite attention to detail and pictorial demands of this time-consuming technique, he continues to develop the style, attuning it to his needs, both visual and emotional. With this in mind, the reading of de Graaf’s paintings takes on a different dimension, where each piece is a fragment of a journey, both visual and personal, for both… the viewer and the artist. And this unique dialogue is at the root of every work of art, regardless of style or medium.
JASON DE GRAAF
Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montréal
December 5 — 15, 2015