Growing up in urban Chicago had perhaps the greatest influence on the subject matter and style that Richard Estes chose in his art. His photo-realistic paintings and printed works capture the urban landscape, but with an eerie stillness. The energy of human activity is missing, creating a quiet mood in his work similar to that in the paintings of Edward Hopper. This is fitting since Estes studied Hopper’s canvases, along with those of Thomas Eakins, Edgar Degas and many others at the Chicago Art Institute where he was a student from 1952-1956.
What is the most striking about Este’s art is the way that he chooses to depict his subject matter. In “A Train,” for example, the subway car is shown void of human passengers. It looks cold and stark, at odds with scene of bustling activity typically witnessed by subway travelers. In this piece and others like it, Estes seems to be making a statement about the lack of humanity in our public spaces. Somehow, in modern design the warmth of the human touch that was found in traditional market places and culture centers has been lost. The cold, metallic surfaces of the train bear the earmarks of a space designed strictly for utilitarian purposes. It shows no evidence or consideration for the thousands of souls who pass through the train’s doors everyday. In “Airport,” “Bus Interior,” and “A Train” Estes not only shows his skill as a realist artist, but he skillfully captures the solitude of an impersonal city.
Although he began his career as a graphic designer, Estes had confidence that he could support himself as a professional fine artist. After less than a decade working as a graphic designer, he had saved up enough money to quit doing graphic work and devote himself to painting full-time. Within two years, Estes had his first one-man show and has since been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.