Richard Estes

Richard Estes was born in 1932 in Kewanee, Illinois, but moved to Chicago at an early age. He remained there to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s, where his training centered on figure drawing and traditional academic painting, the style that interested him most. The Art Institute's comprehensive art collection was important in shaping Estes's work; he frequently studied the works of such artists as Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Eakins there. Upon graduating in 1956, Estes moved to New York, working in the graphic design field as a freelance illustrator and for various magazine publishers and advertising agencies. Estes continued to paint at night and was eventually able to pursue his career as a fulltime artist.

Most of Estes's figurative canvases from the early 1960s are painted scenes of New Yorkers engaged in urban activities. Around 1967 his paintings of city street scenes changed to images of glass storefronts reflecting distorted images of buildings and cars. Basing his compositions on his own color photographs, he painted freehand, subtly altering the details for aesthetic balance but keeping the buildings and locations recognizable. In 1968, his first one-person show opened at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York.

Estes is one of the foremost proponents of the Photo-Realist movement, a particular type of realism characterized by high finish, sharp details, and a photographic appearance. This movement began in the mid-1960s in America with such artists as Malcolm Morley, Chuck Close, Duane Hanson and Estes. Photo-Realism evolved from two longstanding art-historical traditions: trompe l'oeil ("to fool the eye") painting and the meticulous technique and highly finished surfaces of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.

Painters such as Vermeer greatly influenced Estes with their detailed observation of reality and their use of technical devices, such as the camera obscura . More modern precedents for Estes's painting can be found in the work of Charles Sheeler and the American Precisionist painters of the 1930s, who often used photographic sources to ensure accuracy of line and form.

About the Art
The crisp clarity of Estes's paintings is reminiscent of photography, yet upon closer inspection his work reveals elements and perspectives that do not exist in reality. The oils shown below illustrate Estes's "panoramas," or wide-angled views of buildings and streets. For this and other works made after 1974, he used panoramic cameras with special lenses to solve problems of perspective and distortion. By combining two or more such photographs, he created an image showing a junction of streets from several viewpoints at once. Most of Estes's art consists of scenes of New York City that focus on the built environment rather than the natural; they are usually obscure locations rather than well-known landmarks.

Estes chose to present isolated buildings, urban street scenes, escalators, subway cars, and distorted reflections seen in shop windows and shiny automobiles. His compositions are typically devoid of people and therefore convey a sense of somber isolation without narrative. Although the illusionistic effect of Estes's paintings suggests they are directly copied from one photographic source, an Estes painting is, in fact, a composite of several photographic views of the same subject.

He is not concerned with recreating exact copies of photographs, but rather in manipulating and reconstructing them to create a view that, (although scientifically inaccurate), appears more truthful to the eye than reality.

Terms used above.

  • Camera obscura - A darkened chamber in which the real image of an object is received through a small opening or lens and focused in natural color onto another surface.
  • Trompe l'oeil - A style of painting that creates an illusion of photographic reality.

Richard Estes has released a new range of woodcuts over the past few years.

They are available through the Art Collector. The woodcut is the art of engraving on wood by hollowing out with chisels areas of a plank of usually cherry wood, pear, apple or boxwood, leaving a design on the surface. Inking the surface with typographic ink, and applying pressure with a press achieve the transfer of this design to paper. The woodcut technique was used for decorating textiles in China as early as the 5th century AD and by the 15th century it was applied to religious images and playing cards in Europe.

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