Estes is an American painter best known for his photorealistic paintings
which generally consist of reflective, clean, and inanimate city and
geometric landscapes. Estes is regarded as one of the founders of the
photo-realist movement of the late
1960's, with painters such as Ralph Goings,
Chuck Close, and Duane Hanson. Their work
exhibits a high finish, fine details and an almost photographic fidelity
Richard Estes belongs to a rich history of artists who have depicted New York City, and has a detailed knowledge of the city's diverse architecture, infrastructure and habitants. Although not a native New Yorker, New York has been his home and a recurring motif in his work for over 30 years. Habitually depicting urban landscapes, Estes begins with photography to collect and record information. Richard Estes then works free-hand to paint in a fluid and open-ended process his remarkably intricate and realistic scenes. While unquestionably reconstructing reality, Estes' paintings and prints expand the sensory range of the viewer allowing a greater focus and providing more information than the naked eye. His prints are no exception in creating this extrasensory experience. They are built up in layers of color and capture a palette and vitality similar to the detailed clarity of his paintings. Richard Estes remains a prominent figure in the contemporary art world, and has secured a place in art history as one of the most captivating American realists to date.
Richard Estes was born in 1932 in Kewanee, Illinois. He moved to Chicago at an early age and studied fine arts from 1952 to 1956, with a concentration on figure drawing and traditional academic painting, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Richard Estes frequently studied the works of realist painters such as Degas, Hopper and Eakins, who are strongly represented in the Art Institute's collection.
Richard Estes moved to New York City in 1956, after he had completed his course of studies, and worked for the next ten years as a graphic artist for various magazine publishers and advertising agencies in New York and Spain. During this period Richard Estes painted in his spare time, and by 1966 he had saved enough money so that he could devote himself full-time to painting. Most of Estes' paintings from the early 60's are of New Yorkers engaged in everyday activities.
It was around 1967 that a shift occurred in his city scenes: Richard Estes began to paint storefronts and buildings with glass windows partially reflecting images of the street scene in front of the building. These paintings were based on color photographs he would make of his object, which trapped the evanescent nature of the reflections, which would change in part with the lighting and the time of day. While some amount of alteration was done for the sake of aesthetic composition, it was important to Estes that the central and the main reflected objects be recognizable, but also that the evanescent quality of the reflections be retained. Richard Estes had his first of many one-man shows in 1968, at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York.
In spite of all the minute visual accuracy of detail in Richard Estes' paintings, New York City as seen here in his "34th Street, Manhattan, Looking East", gleams brightly like a pristine, clearly defined city of dreams some explorer might set sail for, confusing an inner quest for fantasy and emotional fulfillment with his earthly search for cities of gold. Estes paints what he sees, via the photograph, but in the process of creation, the city becomes stamped with and shaped by his own personality. It is re-created in his own image. By and large, the thronging metropolis is un populated, a gleaming ghost town. Glass sparkles, metals shine, walls are of newly minted brick and tile, clean, even and precise whether the buildings are one hundred years old or constructed yesterday. Though sidewalks may be cracked, they are neatly cracked. It is a city without pollutants and without movement, a frozen city.
Richard Estes, in some ways, is like an urban Andrew Wyeth. While Estes devotes his attention to newness and Wyeth emphasizes weathered use, there is a similar minuteness of attention to detail, texture and brushwork. Underlying each brilliant technique, however, is emotional content of a differing kind of somewhat aloof, stand-offishness in Estes, a melancholy sense of loss and the passing of an era in Wyeth.
Richard Estes is the best of the Photo-Realists in terms of handling paint, building forms and expressing himself in his work. There is mind and emotion at work in Estes, though he would deny the latter quality. His concern for visual observation is so acute, his awareness of symbolic or emotional content apparently so minimal, that it might be said of Estes, as it was of Monet, that "he is only an eye; but what an eye." Estes has exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. Richard Estes's work can be found in public and private collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Fine Art, both in New York City.