At an early age, Estes moved to Chicago with his family, where he studied fine arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1952–56).
He frequently studied the works of realist painters such as Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Eakins, who are strongly represented in the Art Institute’s collection.
After he completed his course of studies, Estes moved to New York City and, for the next ten years, worked as a graphic artist for various magazine publishers and advertising agencies in New York and Spain.
Estes stayed true to the photographs he used: when his paintings include stickers, signs, and window displays, they are always depicted backwards because of the reflection.
His work rarely included litter or snow around the buildings because he believed these details detract from the buildings themselves.
The paintings are always set during daylight hours, suggesting “vacant and quiet Sunday mornings.” Estes’s works strive to create convincing three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional canvas.
His work has been described via a variety of terms, ranging from super-realism, sharp-focus realism, neo-realism, photo-realism, to radical realism. The most frequently used term is super-realism.
The paintings were based on color photographs he took, which trapped the evanescent nature of the reflections, which would change with the lighting and the time of day.
Estes’s paintings were based on several photographs of the subject. He avoided using famous New York landmarks.
His paintings provided fine detail that were invisible to the naked eye, and gave “depth and intensity of vision that only artistic transformation can achieve.
While some amount of alteration was done for the sake of aesthetic composition, it was important to Estes that the central and the main reflected objects be recognizable, but also that the evanescent quality of the reflections be retained.
His works have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Richard Estes, 1932, is an American artist, best known for his photorealist paintings. The paintings generally consist of reflective, clean, and inanimate city and geometric landscapes.