Art History Lab

Ralph Goings: Capturing the Beauty in Everyday Life

Ralph Goings: The Pioneer of Photorealism

Art is often a reflection of the artist’s experiences, emotions, and surrounding environment. California native Ralph Goings is no exception.

He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of photorealism, a form of art that replicates the image as closely as possible to the point of confusion between the art and reality. In this article, we will delve into the life of Ralph Goings, his unique style, and the process he follows to create his masterpieces.

Early Life and Art Education

Ralph Goings was born on May 9, 1928, in California, during the height of the Great Depression. His family moved to Sacramento, where he developed an interest in art at a young age.

Goings received formal training in art at Sacramento State University, where he learned the fundamentals of painting. His love for the works of Rembrandt and other Dutch artists influenced his early work.

However, it was not until the 1960s that Goings found his unique style, photorealism.

The Development of Ralph Goings Unique Photorealist Style

Ralph Goings is known for his paintings of pick-up trucks, diners, and fast-food restaurants. His works depict the mundane scenes of everyday life, but he captures them with such precision that his art stands out.

His pieces are not just snapshots of reality but are imbued with a sense of nostalgia and timelessness. Goings’ process of creating photorealism art involves various steps:


Collecting Images: Goings often takes photographs of car parks, supermarkets, diners, and fast-food restaurants as inspiration.


Creating the Composition: After selecting the image, he projects it onto a canvas or paper and sketches the composition. However, he emphasizes that his sketches aren’t interpretive but are more of an outline.

3. Painting Process: The artist then begins painting individual objects within the composition from left to right, creating a photorealistic image with the absence of people.

Goings also incorporates magazine cuttings and traced photographs in his work. However, the majority of his paintings are through his own photographs.

Despite his unique style, Ralph Goings was not initially recognized as a photorealist painter. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his work began to gain attention, and he became one of the most recognized artists of the genre.

His work has been exhibited around the world, and he has received numerous awards for his art, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Design.


Ralph Goings was a pioneer in the photorealism movement, bringing to life everyday scenes with an unmatched precision. His paintings remind people that beauty and art exist even in the simplest moments of life.

He is a reminder that art can be found everywhere if we just take the time to look.

Some of the Most Famous Ralph Goings Paintings

Ralph Goings is a renowned artist who is best known for his work in the photorealist style. His paintings are so realistic that it is often difficult for the viewer to discern whether they are looking at a photograph or a painting.

Goings’ art highlights the beauty and art in everyday life, and his work has become a mainstay in the world of fine art. In this article, we will delve into two of his most famous paintings, discussing the style, composition, and message behind them.

1970: McDonald’s Pickup

McDonald’s Pickup is one of Ralph Goings’ earliest works and is a prime example of his typical early style. The painting depicts a McDonald’s drive-through restaurant with a truck pulling up to order.

The composition is bottom-heavy, with the vast majority of the painting dedicated to the parking lot and drive-through lane. The only vertical elements in the painting are the two golden arches, which stretch upwards towards the sky.

At first glance, McDonald’s Pickup appears to be a simple snapshot of everyday life. However, upon further examination, it becomes clear that there is a social commentary present in the painting.

The bright yellow McDonald’s logo is prominently displayed above the drive-through lane, emphasizing the impact of fast food on American society. The painting shows the beauty of everyday objects and indicates a fascination with the ordinary.

The real power of the painting lies in the fact that it is a snapshot of a moment in time. The truck driver has just pulled up to the drive-through lane, ready to place his order.

The viewer is invited to imagine what happens next in the painting. The painting’s message is that even the most routine moments of everyday life are worthy of being recorded and depicted in art.

1986: Two Waitresses Afternoon Break

Two Waitresses Afternoon Break is a shift in both style and subject for Ralph Goings. The painting depicts two waitresses taking a break from their work.

The women are dressed in white uniforms, and their faces are obscured by shadows, emphasizing their anonymity. The painting showcases Goings’ fascination with light, as the light streams through a window behind the waitresses, casting a warm glow over the entire scene.

The painting represents a change in focus for Goings. Instead of depicting the mundane objects of everyday life, he chose to depict the people who work within it.

The waitresses represent the working-class people that Goings held in such high regard. He had a reverence for working-class people, indicating that they were a vital part of American society.

The painting is a respectful snapshot of the waitresses’ afternoon break. The painting does not judge or criticize the waitresses’ profession and instead elevates it to a position of importance in American society.

The painting’s message is that even the simplest moments in life are worthy of being depicted in art, especially the overlooked moments.


Ralph Goings’ art is a testament to the beauty present in everyday life. His work highlights the mundane objects and people that often go unnoticed and elevate them to the status of fine art.

McDonald’s Pickup and Two Waitresses Afternoon Break are two of his most famous paintings, showcasing his ability to capture the essence of a moment in time. Ralph Goings’ work has forever impacted the world of photorealism and fine art.

In this article, we discussed the life and art of Ralph Goings, a pioneer in the photorealism movement. Goings’ unique style showcased the beauty and art in everyday life, emphasizing the importance of the mundane objects and people that often go unnoticed.

We looked at two of his most famous paintings, McDonald’s Pickup and Two Waitresses Afternoon Break, and discussed their style, composition, and message. Ralph Goings’ work has left a significant impact on the world of fine art, reminding us that even the most routine moments in our lives are worthy of being depicted in art.

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