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Richard Estes: Voyages at Newport Street Gallery review

Art, Contemporary art Newport Street Gallery , Vauxhall Wednesday December 8 2021 - Sunday December 12 2021 Free
4 out of 5 stars
Richard Estes
Richard Estes

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Photorealist painting is a bit like parkour or putting your whole fist in your mouth: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Because at its worst, the ability to paint photorealistically is the ultimate expression of skill over taste. 

So why are so many of American artist Rachard Estes’ hyper-precise paintings so good? 

The main reason is that the photorealism here isn’t the end goal, it’s a tool, it’s what Estes uses to look at urban environments, most famously New York City. He parses cities, he stares and analyses and dissects and captures them. And by putting what he sees down on canvas like he does, he finds ways to understand it. 

NYC is the star of the show. Estes depicts infinite reflections and refractions in the city. You see a bus reflected in a restaurant window, lights repeated in a passing car’s windscreen, taxis reflected in the panes of a building and the building reflected back on the bonnets of the taxis. Endless, countless layers of looking and light. 

Even when he isn’t painting the urban environment as a cracked mirrored surface that infinitely repeats itself, he still captures the art of looking. One painting of people lounging in Central Park is full of tourists with cameras and sightseers pointing out landmarks. Another work – well away from NYC this time – is a dizzying vista of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, twisted in fish eye, with sunglassed tourists taking in the view. Looking, staring, thinking, that’s what happens here.

Much less good are his more traditional landscapes. Without a city’s reflective qualities, or humans taking it all in, you’re left with fairly dull and not hugely original visions of mountains and lakes. Done before, and done better (though the boat wake images aren't bad).

But when he’s got the city in his sights, Estes glories in the things most of us just pass by, and shows us just how much we’re missing.


Venue name: Newport Street Gallery
Venue website:
Address: Newport St
SE11 6AJ
Transport: Tube: Vauxhall
Price: Free

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