Telephone Booths, 1967
Acrylic on masonite. 122 x 175,3 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Richard Estes (born Kewanee, Illinois, 1932) is known as one of
the founders of Photorealism, a movement in painting which
arose in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Estes, however,
does not identify himself with this trend and prefers simply
to be considered a painter in the traditional sense of the term.
His painting goes beyond mere photographic reference and Estes
has never limited himself to copying a photograph. Rather,
he constructs an authentic pictorial composition using various
photographic images as auxiliary material but also making use
of drawing, perspective and the study of light.
Although he has painted rural landscapes, Richard Estes is
primarily a painter of urban views, including scenes of Chicago,
Paris, Venice, San Francisco, Prague, Barcelona, London, Cordoba
and Florence. It is New York, however, to which he has devoted
most time and attention. Manhattan is the matrix of all the
cities that Estes has painted, just as Central Park is the model for
all his rural landscapes and the Bay of New York the origins of all
his views with water, from the Grand Canal to the Sea of Marmara.
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.
Beyond this ephemeral element, however, the city-every city-
unfolds in Estes' work like a crystalline structure of infinite facets,
both identical and always in the process of change.
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. Since 1967 when the artist painted the
Flatiron building reflected in the bodywork of a car, reflections
appear throughout Estes' work: on cars and buses, in window
panes and shop windows and in water. These reflective surfaces
are not smooth and uniform but are filled with waves and eddies
that alter and distort what is reflected in them. As they unfold
on these surfaces, the real objects become fantastical and unrecognisable
monsters, like the female nudes in André Kertesz's
photographs. On occasions our only perception of the real world
in Estes' painting is via a reflection through which the world appears
inverted, fragmented and distorted.
At other times the world splits into two. A glass wall traverses
the pictorial space as it recedes into depth and divides it into
two halves: the inside and the outside of a bus or a shop window.
For much of his career Estes has focused on exploring the ambiguity
of the pane of glass that sometimes reflects and at other
times both reflects and functions as a transparent surface, confusing
everything within the painting. Shop windows are magical
places in which reflections and transparent elements co-exist
and in which exterior and interior come together. Estes' approach
brings to mind Monet in his late scenes of garden ponds: reflections
and reflections of reflections in which we loose our sense
of the object depicted and even of up and down. Richard Estes
is thus not an unthinking realist but rather a painter who complicates
his vision of reality. He is a Baroque artist who takes a
perverse delight in trompe-l'oeil and illusion. He is a creator of
labyrinths in which the natural and the artificial, reality and appearance,
are guests at a masked ball.