James Bullough Magnificent hyper-real murals that blow portraits to pieces

Photo by Benjamin Briscoe White

When it comes to James Bullough’s magnificent murals, the idea of massive models being reconfigured and fragmented might be a little unsettling. But this only paves makes the effect even more surprising when you come face-to-face with these gigantic masterpieces. James manages to display amazingly-detailed hyper-realistic images of people swirling across the canvas, playing with the notion of realism versus abstraction by moving bits and pieces of the models around.

At first James only painted realistically, but once he started to collaborate with others, his style changed step by step. “We would start with the idea of a portrait and then break it into sections where I do the realistic part and the other artist would do the other parts in their style,” James explains. “Eventually I started experimenting with that a bit more, and rather than having missing pieces and taking them out, I started just moving them around on the canvas.”

To make his paintings as realistic as possible, James works in his studio with models. He spends hours, sometimes weeks, adjusting these photos in Photoshop until he has found the perfect image. Then he scales these up either by using a projector or by drawing it directly on the canvas using a grid.

“Once the sketch is on the wall, I move basically like a printer, from one side to the other. When one section is finished, that part is done and I just move on like a virus across the wall.”

One of the first things you notice is the dynamism inherent in every painting. “It’s actually funny how my pieces now are very much about movement and motion, but it actually started from a desire to get my models into more awkward poses.” This is when James moved on from fashion models to dancers, because, he says, they are more aware of how they can best use their bodies while in motion.

“I asked the models to move a bit more so their hair was crazy and the clothing was not just laying flat but instead swirling around them. We found the best way to do that was to have the models jump in the air and get them really active. So now that’s kind of the main theme in my work: it’s about jumping and floating and moving.”

It is this sense of movement which lifts James’ creations to a higher level, and makes them more interesting, and impressive, than a lot of the street art we often encounter.

 Photo by Nika Kramer
Photo by Nika Kramer