Sunday, March 2, 2014

Richard Estes

While flipping through The Art Book at Lilly Library, I stumbled across an image that appeared to be a photograph rather than a painting. It was a sample of the hyper-realist work of Richard Estes. Born in 1932 in Illinois, Estes studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York in 1959. He worked as a commercial artist in publishing and illustrating before becoming a full-time painter. In 1968, he had his first solo exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery and Hudson River Museum, and in 1971 received a National Endowment Fellowship Award for Painting. He published his first print portfolio in 1971 and became recognized as one of the most influential figures in contemporary realism. He has since received several other awards for his work and currently lives in New York and Maine.

As subjects for his work, he largely focuses on familiar city scenes, painting them with stunning photorealist detail. He photographs the subject and then works from the photograph to reproduce it with paint.

Source: The Art Institute of Chicago
Study Drawing: New York Restaurant
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago

As scene in the image above, Estes begins his works with sketchy, study drawings, mapping out relationships between figures and objects in his subject scenes and determining areas of light and shadow.

After the study sketch comes a study painting, which adds color to the work but still leaves meticulous detail to later rendering of the work.

Study Painting: Figures in Cafeteria (oil on canvas)
Source: Artnet, NY Marlborough Gallery
One such study painting is included here, depicting some figures in a cafeteria scene. Estes has begun to fill in the colors of the scene, but has yet to include the detail that gives his work its signature photorealism.

His finished pieces demonstrate an unbelievable attention to and ability to create exquisite detail, as demonstrated in the following figure.

Painting: Lunch Specials (oil on canvas)
Source: Artnet, NY Marlborough Gallery
I particularly like this work because it appears that one of the individuals in the scene (the man in the purple shirt in the eatery) caught the artist in the act of snapping this photograph.

Estes' use and depiction of reflection in his work is especially amazing to me. Almost all of his subject scenes contain beautifully reproduced reflective elements (windows, cars, metallic surfaces), and I think that this feature in particular assists in elevating his work from being realistic to being photorealistic. Some of this can be scene on the eatery window in Lunch Specials above, but the following examples serve to highlight Estes' use of reflection in his work very well.

Painting: Citarella
Source: Artnet, NY Marlborough Gallery

Painting: Kentucky Fried Chicken
Source: Artnet, NY Marlborough Gallery
In Citarella, we see an example where Estes produced identical mirror images of the same scene in one painting, both in the restaurant window and in real life. And in Kentucky Fried Chicken, Estes uses the distorted reflection on the hood of the car to give his audience a view of objects that cannot be scene within the frame of the painting. These reflections serve to give his work a depth and a realism that would be lacking in their absence. 

In Richard Estes' work, I admire the extreme amount of detail and realism that he is able to achieve. His work makes the viewer do a double-take and leaves them in disbelief that they are in fact looking at a painting rather than a photograph. 

Meisel, Louis K. Richard Estes: The Complete Paintings 1966-1985. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1986. Print.

Richard Estes. Artnet: The Art World Online, New York. Web. 2 Mar 2014. <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment