Jack Mendenhall


Jack Mendenhall (born 1937) is an important Photorealist who earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees in fine art by 1970 at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California. His work is part of public collections at The Oakland Museum in California and The University of California, Berkeley.


“Although the majority of my early experience as a painter was in abstraction, true enlightenment did not come until the sixties as a “new realist”…How could I make paintings in the realist style from less than sympathetic subject matter! Why bother? For at least two reasons: abstraction for me had become academic, and realism (“the taboo”) emerged as the challenge! Besides all that, I was good at realism. My choice of subject matter, unsympathetic as it was to the historic style, was certainly related to Pop Art. The American interior, a symbol of class distinction and material fantasy, turned out to be a gold mine of aesthetic satisfaction. My background in abstraction always dictated a certain “presence” or spirit, in the work. I referred to them as paintings; others saw them as rooms. Nonetheless these works lay the groundwork for my taste in the “opulent” and “exotic.” The sources for my imagery were those great American wish books, Interiors magazines. They provided at times the tacky environment and sometimes the unexpected elegant color, plus surfaces galore! It was a dream to be a born-again realist.

The late eighties and the early nineties brought changes. I started taking my own photographs and traveling to exotic environments and resorts, searching for seductive light, lush color, and gleam. As a result of most of the photographs being taken around resorts, leisure also became an important historical issue. All these elements were important to my aesthetic and my painting style. The painter Paul Gauguin would be surprised by our additions to paradise: bright umbrellas, swimming pools, paved patios, children’s water toys, and we have replaced the sarong with the eye-catching bikini. All are the contributions of the leisure industry. This is not a cynical criticism, but a mere observation. I do not see leisure as the deadly sin sloth, but as a safety valve for contemporary life. Happily, the original package is still there: sun, sea, lush foliage, sand, and a temperate climate. I am combining these elements and subjects in an attempt to make exotic provocative indoor / outdoor paintings that will be a part of the history of leisure that one views throughout our history of art.

I have always believed that the subject dictates how one technically executes the realist style. It is clear that each painter can be recognized through execution and subject, regardless of the fact that they are all using different types of photographic images. In my case, I depend on color interaction and less severe structuring of the subject matter. I have found this method to be much more environmental and atmospheric. I must admit, though, that as a realist painter, at the heart of all this is the temptation of visual alchemy. When I paint water, rocks, sky, trees, chairs, etc., I must imagine touching them, convincing myself, as it were, that I am creating these things in a very real sense. The magic occurs when I believe I have done this.”

-Jack Mendenhall, from the book Photorealism in the Digital Age © 2013

Citation: Bernarducci, Frank, Harris, Elizabeth K., and Meisel, Louis K. Photorealism in the Digital Age. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2013.


2014 – “Photorealism: The Everyday Illuminated,” Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

2011 – OK Harris Works of Art, New York, New York

2008 – “The West Coast Ten,” Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California

2007/08 – “Artists of Invention,” Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

2006 – OK Harris Works of Art, New York, New York

2006 – “Realist Tendencies on Paper,” The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

2006 – “Exactitude III,” Plus One Gallery, London, United Kingdom

2004 – “American Photorealism,” Iwate Museum of Art, Iwate, Japan

2003/04 – “Everything OK at OK Harris,” Brevard Museum of Art and Science, Melbourne, Florida

2003 – “Iperrealisti,” Chlostro del Bramante, Rome, Italy

2002 – “Vintage Photorealists,” Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York, New York

2002 – “Photorealism,” The Liff Collection, Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida

2000 – “2nd Annual Realism Invitational,” Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, California

1999 – “Realism Knows no Bounds,” Van de Griff Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

1996 – “A Survey of Contemporary American Realism,” Posco Gallery, Seoul, South Korea

1994 – “Young Guns East Coast Artists,” Nevada Institute for Contemporary Art, Las Vegas, Nevada

1993 – “Photorealism Since 1980,” Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York, New York

1992 – “Photorealism From Nashville Collections,” Cheekwood Fine Arts Center, Nashville, Tennessee

1991 – “A Small Bite of the Big Apple: Contemporary Art from OK Harris,” Bobbitt Visual Arts Center, Albion College, Albion, Michigan

1990 – “Contemporary Realism: Perception and Experience,” California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California

1988 – “Tortue is OK,” Tortue Gallery, Santa Monica, California

1987 – “Mainstream America: The Collection of Phil Desind,” Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio

1985 – “The Real Thing,” North Miami Museum of Art Center, North Miami, Florida

1984 – “Through the Looking Glass: Reflected Images in Contemporary Art,” Heckscher Museum, Huntington, New York

1982 – “Northern California Realist Painters,” Redding Museum, Redding, California

1980 – “Realism/Photorealism,” Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

1979 – OK Harris Works of Art, New York, New York

1974 – OK Harris Works of Art, New York, New York

1965 – Chico College, Chico, California

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