Regarded as one of the founders of the international photo-realist movement of the late 1960s, with painters such as Malcolm Morley, Chuck Close, and Duane Hanson.
Studied fine arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 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.
Moves to NYC in 1956 and works for the next ten years as a graphic artist for various magazine publishers and advertising agencies.
In 1967 he begins his Photo-Realistic theme of art.
Considered to be the unrivalled master of cityscape Photo-Realism.
Richard Estes Telephone Booths (1967) Acrylic on masonite
Estes is very interested in not only the city, but the how even a city like NYC can have its moments of emptiness --> his works, like all Photo-Realists, are taken from photographs and Estes would wait until there were not people visible to take his photographs.
Employs an age-old tradition of trompe l'oeil --to fool the eye- which was mastered by Dutch and Italian Renaissance artists.
Estes' city views include a wealth of signs that indicate a particular time and place: the models of the cars, the publicity awnings, the shop windows, even the clothes worn by passers-by.
Masaccio The Holy Trinity / (1425-27/28) Oculus on the ceiling of the Spouses Chamber, castle of San Giorgio in Mantoa, Italy, by Andrea Mantegna
Estes' Realism is not the passive reproduction of what we see but rather a questioning of the visible, hence the almost obsessive use of reflections.
Reflections appear throughout Estes' work: on cars and buses, in window panes and shop windows and in water.
The reflections are rarely smooth and uniform, rather they are filled with waves and eddies that alter and distort what is reflected in them--> a sense that perhaps the reflections of reality are not what they seem (ie. Baudrillard’s definition of Hyper-Reality)
Estes says that, “You make changes to make is closer to what it really is.”
He also adds, “ "I don't believe that the photograph is the last word in Realism. I can select what to do or what not to do with the photograph. I can ad or subtract from it…so what I'm trying to paint is not something different but something more like the place I've photographed.“
What is interesting about this is that concept of simulacrum or a slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance.
Is what Estes paints superficial? If so, why? If not why not?
Last question: Is Estes a Photo-Realist or a Hyper-Realist?
“ Reality itself founders in hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another, reproductive medium such as photography. ‘ Hyperrealism is only beyond representation because it functions entirely within the realm of simulation. ‘ Now the whole of everyday political, social, historical, economic reality is incorporated into the simulative dimension of hyperrealism.” -Jean Baudrillard from The Hyper-realism of Simulation