Book Review: Richard Estes

The king of ambiguous reflection and alluring optical deceptions

I bought this rather sumptuous book to update my 1986 Louis Meisel title on Estes and despite some editorial weaknesses I think it's a worthwhile overview of the artist's work.

First off I think John Wilmerding is to be congratulated on his very lucid and fascinating text on Estes. Full of observations and nicely, lots of references to other artists and styles that encourage me to further research. From experience this sort of monograph can easily land the reader with a writer full of elitist clichés and bad writing, fortunately not the case here. Wilmerding reveals Estes different styles over the years and I liked the frequent references to how he goes about creating his work, from the initial photography, preparing the canvas and application of paint.

My clear favorites of Estes work are the NYC street scenes. Full of detail that pulls the eye into the work and more so when he extended the idea to use reflections in windows to produce clever and visually challenging paintings. Several in the book are bleed size. Estes window style probably inspired the leading British Photorealist Clive Head to produce some wonderful paintings: Clive Head. Estes ship and mountain landscape work doesn't have quite the same appeal for me as his city street scenes. Incidentally one of these, the 1995 painting `Fairway' has two spelling mistakes on a poster hanging in a supermarket window. Presentation and receipt are spelt prensentaion and reciept. With significant amounts of typography in his paintings maybe Estes should employ a proof reader!

As to the editorial weaknesses, there are several: throughout the book so many pages have no numbers which makes a bit of a nonsense of the list of illustrations at the back of the book; captions are annoyingly not next to the paintings and many of them seem to appear anywhere on a page, sometimes two pages before the painting they refer to; there is a huge amount of empty page space everywhere and many paintings could have easily have been larger without destroying the integrity of the book's design; though, perhaps not an editorial weakness I found the way Wilmerding's text meandered through the pages rather annoying, I would have preferred it to be at the front of the book leaving the paintings to be revealed in date order.

A thing I noticed immediately after a first quick look through the book was the variable color especially when compared to the earlier Meisel book. There are a few in that book which are comparable in size to this Rizzoli one and the color is much lighter in Meisel's title. One painting in particular, the 1984 `Broadway and 64th' on page 124 has parts which seem almost black yet on the opposite page is an enlargement of the painting revealing the detail that's in the original. There is one advantage to this Rizzoli book though, a finer screen: 300dpi reveals much more than the 150dpi used for printing the Meisel book. In fact the screen is so fine that individual brush strokes can be seen in some of whole spread paintings and so much of the detail work is clearly visible.

Overall and despite the editorial lapses I think I'll be enjoying this book for a long time and I think it's worth checking round the net for a good price as I think the title is now classed as a remainder.

Richard Estes is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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Abrams and Rizzoli books.

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Title page.

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Perhaps the worst reproduction in the book. Abrams fold-out version below the Rizzoli one. Look at the windows in the building and trees. Oddly though, on the right-hand page there is a detail of the painting with much of the detail revealed.

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People's flowers from 1971. The Abrams version is on the right.

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Drugs from 1970. Abrams version on the left.

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The amazing 'Times Square' from 2004. Estes at his finest.

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