Estes, Richard

Estes, Richard Biography

American painter, a leading proponent of photorealism, an extremely realistic oil painting style that emerged in the late 1960s. Although his oil paintings have the detailed precision of photography, Estes's distinctive, unpopulated urban landscapes are created with a painter's eye for composition, color, line, and form.

Estes was born in Evanston, Illinois. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1952 to 1956, later moving to New York City. Although his early oil paintings are figurative, he soon abandoned this style. Rather than working from preliminary sketches, as is traditional for oil painters, Estes began working from color photographs, combining several at once to create images more complex than could be mechanically recorded by a camera. A key early painting was Automat (1967, private collection), in which a square table, seen from a bird's-eye viewpoint, tilts against a rectangular floor pattern.

Estes's painstaking, highly finished technique, however, belongs to a movement that originated in the early 1970s and is sometimes referred to as new realism. The new realists, who sought to objectively depict the everyday environment, included not only American photorealists such as Estes but also more diverse oil painters such as Americans Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein.

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