Barbara Divver, Fine Art, New York, New York
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, June 29, 1981
2017 - : Haslinger galleries, 4/18/17 - , Akron Art Museum
2015 - 2016: Haslinger galleries, 4/22/15 - 11/8/16, Akron Art Museum
2014: Haslinger galleries, 6/9/14 - 10/12/14, Akron Art Museum
2013-2014: "Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine" 11/3/13 - 1/19/14, Art Institute of Chicago
2/22/14 - 5/18/14, The Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Texas
2007 - 2013: Haslinger galleries, 7/7/07 - 6/18/13, Akron Art Museum
2002 - 2003: "As Seen on TV! - Art and Consumer Culture" 7/27/02 - 2/16/03, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998 A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1995 - 1996: "Groovy. Art of the '60s" 10/28/95 - 2/28/96, Akron Art Museum
1991 - 1992: "Focus on the Collection: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" 11/3/91 - 1/5/92, Akron Art Museum
1989: "American Photo-Realism from the Permanent Collection" 2/17/89 - 8/13/89, Akron Art Museum
1987: "Made in the U.S.A.: An Americanization in Modern Art, th '50s & '60s" tour; organized by the University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley
4/4/87 - 6/21/87, University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, California
7/25/87 - 9/6/87, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
10/7/87 - 12/7/87, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
1985: "Permanent Collection Gallery" Akron Art Museum
1981: "Vision of New York City: American Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of the Twentieth Century" 3/27/81 - 5/24/81, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
1974: "Three Realists: Close, Estes, Raffael" 2/27/74 - 4/7/74, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts
1969 - 1970: "Painting from the Photo" 12/9/69 - 2/9/70, Riverside Museum, New York, New York
1968: "Wellington-Invest Collection" 9/15/68 - 10/27/68, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
1968: "Richard Estes One Man Show" 2/20/68 - 3/9/68, Allan Stone Gallery, New York, New York
Signed "Richard Estes" LR
Food City, 1967
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Applying modern technology to the traditional realist practice of making studies on site, Richard Estes uses photographs as his source instead of charcoal, ink, or pencil sketches. He first used photographic aids upon leaving art school, having lost easy access to models. By the early 1970s, after working as a commercial artist in Chicago and New York, he had become highly successful—a key figure in Photorealism, a new wave of realist painting derived from photography.
Critics interpreted Photorealism as an outgrowth of Pop Art, sharing its interests in consumerism and media. Photorealism acknowledged that information today rarely comes from personal involvement but instead is manufactured or preselected by others, especially through photographic reproductions. Unlike other Photorealists, however, Estes was less interested in commenting on photography than in using it as a tool. "It's silly to work from drawings when I can do better with photographs," he explained with characteristic frankness.1 "We see things photographically. We accept the photograph as real," he asserted.2 His arguments oppose much contemporary theory addressing questions of artificiality in photography.
Among Estes's most frequent subjects are the streets and shopfronts of Manhattan's Upper West Side, near his apartment. Food City, from the beginning of his career, displays aspects of traditional realist painting in its visible brushwork. It also points to the artist's later mature style, particularly in the layered reflections and the insistent verticals and horizontals that forcefully divide the painting.
Food City originated in photographs Estes took with a 35mm camera and developed himself to achieve better details. To create his composition he intuitively selected parts of each photograph for his preliminary drawing on the surface of the fiberboard. The result, as the artist has pointed out, is a combination of realism and abstraction, because multiple, disconnected forms are "floating around on a flat surface."3 The painting appears to have begun with markings in pencil over which Estes laid a light layer of diluted acrylic paint, like in a wash drawing. Oils were then applied on top of the acrylic, a slower process that likely involved further alterations. Usually Estes then applies a transparent, slightly tinted layer of paint (known as a glaze) to enrich depth and color and to unite the different elements painted on the surface.
While Estes’s images are thoroughly contemporary, his technique harks back to painting in the tradition of Jan Vermeer and other great realists from centuries past. He has given us a visual record of New York in much the same way that Vermeer recorded intimate portraits of Delft. And like Vermeer, Estes draws attention to the difference between the way the eye sees and the way a lens "sees." Working from multiple photos Estes can have many areas of the image "in focus," while the eye can focus on only one place at a time.
Ironically, Estes abandons the humanistic concern at the core of Dutch realism. "I don't want any kind of emotion to intrude."4 The artist's aloofness is especially evident in the anonymous figures visible through the window. The uniformed, pink image of the cashier is repeated three times, as though a person is as easily reproducible as any of the store's packaged goods.
Food City is not beautiful; even the arrangement of items and prices in the display window is banal. But the scene is visually enticing and offers a rich array of images to examine: vehicles in the street, consumer staples, price tags, and a sense of both the tedium and energy in city life.
- Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001
1. Quoted in Louis K. Meisel, Photo-Realism (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980), 209.
2. Interview with the artist, in Arthur, 79.
3. Quoted in Meisel, 25.
4. Interview with the artist, in Arthur, 26.
Arthur, John. Richard Estes: The Urban Landscape. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts and New York Graphic Society, 1978.
Meisel, Louis K. Richard Estes: The Complete Paintings 1966–1985. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986.