Richard Estes is the doyen of American Photorealism, a movement that began as an offshoot of Pop Art in the 1960s. The artists of American Pop intended to celebrate the everyday vernacular of the urban scene, delighting in the vulgarities of cheap advertising and brash design.

Whereas some of them were content to record these elements in terms that hardly disguise their ordinariness, Estes brought a poetic sensibility to his subject matter that transports it into a tradition which includes several well-established episodes of art-history. His lucid, clearly-lit street scenes have prompted critics to award him the sobriquet “the Canaletto of New York”. (He has painted views in Venice, too, but they are hardly as “Canalettoish” as his scenes on Third Avenue or Union Square).

For instance, this view of a diner – a lunch-time eatery – with three telephone boxes in front of it, is an apparently banal street scene like a large number of his subjects, ostensibly recorded just as his camera photographed them. We imagine the artist composing his photograph: the light clear and bright with no dramatic chiaroscuro, but quirkily including the row of phone booths that obscure the facade of the functional little building. They are positioned so that they both interfere with our view of the diner and complicate the grid of horizontals and verticals that makes up its structure. We start to see the picture not as a representation of a specific spot, but rather as a subtly balanced system of interlocking lines. The dull lustre of the metal elements, the bright red and white of the cheap little diner contrasting with the buffs of the paving slabs, contribute to an abstraction as formal in its arrangement as an abstract painting by Mondrian.

At the same time, we are entertained by the subsidiary sequence of planes formed by the half-opened doors of the booths, the blank dark window of the diner itself, the partly-glimpsed details of a street scene beyond. And notice, too, the flashes of diagonal reflections from the booth doors, lovingly recorded as though by a Dutch master. Estes has been particularly fascinated by the role of glass in the urban street: his paintings are a prolonged hymn to plate-glass and its capacity to reflect whole urban perspectives of buildings and cars so that they echo themselves across broad compositions. He loves the ambiguity of reality and full-scale reflection, and has often made that the subject of his work.

These harmonious structures are created on canvas with deadpan simplicity, replicating the objective clarity of the camera (whose literal images are far removed from the end-products of the artist’s interventions, as we’ve seen). They are incontrovertibly of their time, yet their loving obedience to the basic rules of vision is reminiscent of a Renaissance painter revelling in the new discoveries of linear perspective. Estes uses the camera as a means to rediscover the most elementary laws of seeing, while visiting the great achievements of European painting over its centuries-long history, and paying oblique homage to them.