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Born in Kewanee, Illinois, Richard Estes graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1956 and began working as a commercial illustrator and designer, painting only in his free time. In 1959, he moved to New York City. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Estes would begin showing his paintings, receiving his first one-person exhibition in 1968 at the Allan Stone Gallery. By this time, he had begun to base his paintings on color slides or photographs of subjects taken in the streets of New York: frontal views of storefronts, coffee shops, and subways. While influenced by American realist painters including Thomas Eakins and Edward Hopper, Estes also admired French painter Edgar Degas and Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.
In the late 1960s, Estes, together with his contemporaries Chuck Close and Robert Bechtle, adopted a style of painting that became known as Photorealism, in which they portrayed scenes of everyday life with photographic precision. Estes’s paintings are luminous, highly detailed compositions depicting fragmented street scenes and their disorienting reflections on polished metal and glass. In his rare depictions of the figure, he portrays anonymous pedestrians or reflected forms. His paintings are based on multiple photographs, which he uses to create a uniform sharp focus that would be impossible with natural vision or in a single snapshot. “When I look at things, Estes explained, “some things are out of focus. But I don’t like to have some things out of focus and others in focus because it makes very specific what you are supposed to look at, and I try to avoid saying that. I want you to look at it all.”
Maxwell L. Anderson. American Visionaries: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2001), 103.