Richard ESTES<br/>
<em>No title (Grant's)</em> 1972 <!-- (recto) --><br />

colour screenprint<br />
35.8 x 51.7 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with funds donated by Noel Belcher Bequest, Max Smith, Diana Lempriere and 2020-2021 Richard Estes Appeal donors, 2021<br />
2021.194.5<br />
© Richard Estes

Richard Estes Urban landscapes I

In 2021 an important series of photorealist screenprints by American artist Richard Estes was sourced for the NGV Collection. By working directly with the print publisher, Parasol Press, the Gallery was able to secure Urban landscapes I, the rare first print series made by Estes in 1972. The series’ eight images of urban shopfronts and modernist buildings encapsulate Estes’s photorealist painting style for which he was gaining national recognition by the early 1970s.  

Richard Estes (born Kewanee, Illinois in 1932) was at the forefront of a group of artists, including Audrey Flack, Chuck Close and others, who came to attention in America in the late 1960s for their hyperreal paintings based on photographs. Estes had an early interest in photography, owning a Kodak Brownie camera and developing his own photographs in a homemade darkroom from his teenage years. He studied art formally in the early 1950s at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was deeply inspired by Chicago’s skyscrapers and modernist architecture. Like numerous artists of this period, Estes began working in advertising agencies in New York City, where he developed his precisionist image-making skills by drawing from photographs for advertising illustrations. By the later 1950s this paid advertising work funded extended periods of full-time painting, which Estes would spend working up meticulously-realised canvases based on his own photographs of New York’s buildings and streetscapes. In early 1968, his exhibition at the Allan Stone gallery was the first solo show of the work of a photorealist painter in New York and was a sell-out success. In the following years, Estes’s work was acquired by museums, shown in major national and international exhibitions and began appearing on magazine covers, cementing his reputation as a major realist painter.  

In 1971 Bob Feldman, Director of Parasol Press, contracted Estes to produce a print series and after initially investigating the lithographic technique in Paris, the artist decided upon screenprinting, with its dense layers of opaque colour, as best suited to his needs. He identified the Domberger print studio in Stuttgart, which was renowned for the precision and complexity of its screenprints, and with Urban landscapes I commenced on a twenty-year collaboration with the studio that resulted in many important prints. For his first series Estes developed eight new images in gouache and acrylic for translation into the screenprint medium. These included images of New York’s shopfronts everyday diners and hardware stores, with their signage and displays of jumbled wares as well as images of modernist buildings with their expansive facades of glass and marble. In these prints, Estes plays with the reflective and transparent qualities of glass to present complex spatial and visual effects. Mirrored and distorted reflections on plate-glass windows are shown simultaneously with glimpses of the buildings’ interiors to create a complex realism that situates Estes’s prints within a long tradition of trompe l’oeil images. Although Estes works from photographs, he modifies them, removing people, changing angles and introducing bewildering reflections to produce compositions that reconstruct, rather than record, reality. The richly coloured and visually complex screenprints of Urban landscapes I compel the viewer to ponder the relationship between reality and representation.

Cathy Leahy, Senior Curator, Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Victoria