Richard Estes, the photorealism painter
Telephone Booths (1968), Oil on canvas. Painting by Richard Estes
Richard Estes (b. May 14, 1932, Kewanee, Illinois) is an American artist, best known for his photorealist paintings. The paintings generally consist of reflective, clean, and inanimate city and geometric landscapes. He is regarded as one of the founders of the international photo-realist movement of the late 1960s, with such painters as Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, and Duane Hanson. Author Graham Thompson wrote, “One demonstration of the way photography became assimilated into the art world is the success of photorealist painting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is also called super-realism or hyper-realism and painters like Richard Estes, Denis Peterson, Audrey Flack, and Chuck Close often worked from photographic stills to create paintings that appeared to be photographs.”
At an early age, the Estes family moved to Chicago, where he studied fine arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1952–56). He frequently studied the works of realist painters such as Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Eakins, who are strongly represented in the Art Institute’s collection. After he completed his course of studies, Estes moved to New York City and, for the next ten years, worked as a graphic artist for various magazine publishers and advertising agencies in New York and Spain. During this period, he painted in his spare time. He had lived in Spain since 1962 and, by 1966, was financially able to “quit his day job”.
Most of Richard’s paintings from the early 1960s are of city dwellers engaged in everyday activities. Beginning around 1967, he began to paint storefronts and buildings with glass windows and, more importantly, the reflected images shown on these windows. The paintings were based on color photographs he would take, 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. He had his one-man show in 1968, at the Allan Stone Gallery. His works have also been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In 1971, Richard was granted a National Council for the Arts fellowship. Estes’ paintings commonly represented past abstractions, hence the photorealistic qualities they portray.