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When I walked into Saper Galleries on Monday, Roy Saper, the gallery’s owner, was wrestling with an elegant Eames Lounge Chair, positioning it under a skylight to watch the solar eclipse. He welcomed me, and for about 20 minutes, we sat there and watched the moon pass across the sun. Then he suggested we look at something almost as beautiful and almost as rare as the natural phenomenon we’d just observed: Saper Galleries’ newest collection of hyper-realistic oil paintings.
“They’re just like the eclipse: you just look at them and marvel,” said Saper about the paintings of Manuel Higueras, Carlos Bruscianelli, Almunia de Miguel, Juan Carlos Ospina Ortiz and John- Mark Gleadow, the five hyperrealist artists on display at Saper Galleries.
“It’s that exacting level of precision that makes hyperrealism so amazing,” said Saper as we looked at one of Higueras’ oil paintings entitled “A Bunch of Grapes Plus One,” depicting a group of grapes so realistically that it could be a photo.
“It highlights every little detail, even the imperfections,” said Saper, and those imperfections are exactly what makes these paintings so realistic.
“One might say, ‘just do a photograph,’” said Saper, “but it’s not a matter of if you can paint something that looks like real life, but can you make it feel like real life? It’s a level of realism that goes beyond a photograph.”
As we made our way deeper into the gallery, Saper stopped at a painting by Bruscianelli depicting a glass vase full of fruit.
“It feels like you could reach into the pitcher and grab a piece of fruit,” marveled Saper. “But then you realize this is a two-dimensional painting.”
But don’t just take Saper’s endorsement — even the U.S. government thinks Bruscianelli is a world talent.
“Carlos Bruscianelli has been attempting to emigrate to the United States from Caracas, Venezuela, to paint,” said Saper, refencing the recent turmoil in the painter’s home.
“After many months of negotiation, Bruscianelli has just obtained a work visa to come and paint for Saper Galleries,” Saper said. “In fact, our federal government has said he’s so good that we want him in our country,” he said, producing a copy of Bruscianelli’s emigration papers saying just that.
We walked on and examined the paintings of Gleadow that depicted faux-photographic oil renditions of book spines arranged neatly in a row.
“These are so good that a lady was in the gallery and she said she wanted this painting,” said Saper, pointing to a piece depicting ragged, used book spines. “And she said that this one had a flaw in it.”
Of course, there was no flaw, just an illusion created by paint and brush.
But still-life paintings have been around forever, it’s a near ancient tradition, with origins in ancient Egypt and Greece. Still, Saper said that artists are revamping this age-old tradition.
“Artists are kind of doing a circle; they’re coming back,” said Saper. “In the last 70 years, we’ve been moving away from still-life, hyperrealism and classical painting — there’s more abstraction today.”
And as Saper pointed out, much of art history had been dedicated to realism, with abstraction only becoming popular in the late 1800s. Today, realism often takes a back seat to different forms of Expressionism. Paintings like those Saper is highlighting, paintings that harken back to the High Renaissance when realism reigned supreme, seem to be out of fashion today.
“But now we’re seeing artists that were trained in this classical style say it’s okay to paint like this again,” said Saper. “Now we revere these hyperrealistic paintings as something new, but people were painting like this in the 1400s and 1500s. There are ebbs and flows in a lot of aspects of culture, this being one of them.”
As I finished up my tour of Saper Galleries, Saper made a joke about how eclipses are rare, but finding artists with this sort of extraordinary talent is even harder to come by.
“Hyperrealism” Through November 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday - Saturday Saper Galleries and Custom Framing 433 Albert Ave., East Lansing (517) 351-0815