Sunday, December 7, 2014

Richard Estes' Realism

Where: American Art Museum

When: through February 8, 2015

It's easy to get so caught up in the realism of Richard Estes' work that you miss the artistry in his pieces.  You could easily mistake almost every painting for a photograph - they're that crisp and detailed and "real" looking.  Once you've marveled at how paint can look so much like toner, however, look again and see what else is going on.

In every piece, you can see the theme of repetition and multiplicity.  Whether it's the arches in his Roman bridge, the stacks of books in the National Gallery of Art library or the telephone booths outside a diner (pictured here), you see the same element repeated over and over again.  In one piece, he deliberately repeats his painting through the use of a mirror effect.  As much as we want to believe that we are unique individuals (special little snow flakes, as I like to say), Estes shows us that the world in which we live is made up of similar, if not identical, pieces.

Another theme that you see in many of his works is that of travel, especially travel over water.  He incorporates bridges as well as boats, showing people moving from one side of the water to the other.  Some of them are commuters on their way to work; others are on vacation, headed for an island destination.  Movement, no matter the purpose, is what he portrays - both the movement of the water and of the people on the water.

Motion and multiplicity are what you see, if you can stop marveling at his technique long enough to appreciate them.

Verdict: The show is well laid out, in a large space.  Because there are only a few paintings in each area, you can make your way through quickly, leaving you time to stop and admire the craftsmanship.

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