Update:The monumental print of D-Train by Richard Estes sold for $35,000.

What you see: D-Train by Richard Estes, 1988. It’s one of 15 artist’s proofs (AP) created in addition to the edition of 125 prints. Christie’s estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Lindsay Griffith, specialist and head of sale for prints and multiples for Christie’s.

Who, or what, is Domberger? It’s a printing studio in Stuttgart, Germany. It’s one of the preeminent printmaking studios of the 20th century. It was founded by Luitpold Domberger and is now run by his son, Michael. They’ve worked extensively with artists such as Keith Haring and Robert Indiana. Because of the precise and highly complex nature of what they produce, the most significant 20th century and post-war contemporary artists have worked with the Domberger studio.

And who is Richard Estes? He’s considered one of the most preeminent members of the photorealist school of painters. He’s known for creating highly detailed paintings and prints based on photographs. He takes more than 100 photos for his images and whittles them down to select the perspective he’s most interested in. That’s typical of his working process. He does all his drawings freehand, working from photographs, with no projectors or mechanical processes [to transfer the photographic image onto the canvas]. It speaks to what a draftsman he is. It’s what separates him from his peers.

How did this particular print, D-Train, come about? Is it based on a Richard Estes painting? D-Train began as a maquette [in this case, a maquette is a fully rendered two-dimensional artwork intended as the basis for another work of art], not a painting per se. The maquette was wash and acrylic on board, and it was at the same size as the print itself. Estes sent the maquette to the Domberger studio. It produced his first portfolio, Urban Landscapes, in the early 1980s. Domberger could achieve what Estes was looking for–pictorial realism. He produced a highly finished maquette image and the studio worked with him to achieve his vision.

So the idea for the D-Train print begins with Richard Estes? He decided what the image would look like. Domberger decided how to make it come alive in the printmaking medium.

How far back does the relationship between Richard Estes and Domberger go? He worked with Domberger the entire time he made prints.

Has Richard Estes stopped making prints? No, he made prints very recently. The most major prints he’s made were produced by Domberger.

What challenges did Richard Estes and Domberger face in transforming the D-Train maquette into a finished fine art print? It’s quite a large print for a screenprint. There are so many different colors and layers in it–there’s so much going on. It took a highly complex process to achieve. Domberger created a special three-layer museum board for it.

…Because the amount of ink needed would saturate and bleed through a standard museum board? Yes. Many, many layers of ink were required to produce this print. It needed substantial backing to hold it.

So D-Train was monumental in more than one way–monumental in size, and it needed a monumental amount of ink to print it. It is, by a hair, not the largest Estes print, but it’s close. It’s the apex of everything he was trying to achieve in his prints. I love the fact that you can see the reflections in the subway seats.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult this print was to make? The printing is quite a process–many screens, many layers that line up perfectly, so there are no imperfections. The skill involved is very high. D-Train is considered by many to be one of the most technically complex screenprints ever produced. There’s so much going on.

The lot notes say that the creation of D-Train “pushed the screenprint process to its limits”. How did it do that? From receiving the maquette, it was clear it would not be a typical day in the office. They had to have a separate press imported from Sweden. The print required more than 100 different layers of ink.

My god, that sounds suicidal–from what I remember from my commercial art classes in high school, that means they had to line up everything perfectly for each pass for each layer of ink… Exactly. It was surely a long day at the office to achieve something that complex. And it’s very finished. There’s a very fine quality to all the works that came out of the Domberger studio. Andy Warhol had said that he didn’t want to work with them because they were too precise.

The Richard Estes D-Train print is described as “unusually large”. The museum board it’s printed on measures 42 inches by 76 and 7/8 inches, and the image itself measures 35 and 7/8 inches by 72 and 1/8 inches. What does unusually large mean in this context? His Urban Landscape portfolio measured 27 by 19 inches in size and the images were 20 by 13 inches. Most of his prints are around that size. Other prints produced by other artists are certainly larger, but this is the largest print produced for Estes.

What is the Richard Estes D-Train print like in person? When you get up close to it, the nature of how the ink sits on the board is almost painterly. There’s an uncanny quality that makes Estes’s work interesting–I take the subway every day. It’s something I know and feel. Here, the perspective is flattened out, and there’s no people. It’s a very solitary scene.

I imagine it draws a lot of power from cognitive dissonance–it looks so real, but you know it can’t be real, because there’s no way that subway train would be rolling under daylight with no one in it. If you were on an empty D-Train, you’d be really worried. It goes back to Edward Hopper, who Estes is so closely tied to. You feel you’re part of it, but not. Estes is a continuation of the [Hopper] tradition.

How does the print’s large size hit you in person? You almost feel like you’re sitting on the D-Train. It’s very lifelike. Nothing has been scaled down, or it doesn’t feel scaled down. Your brain is tricked into thinking you’re looking at a very precise world.

How often does the Richard Estes D-Train print come up at auction? This particular print, on average, about once a year. I do know there are quite a few in institutions because it’s considered a historically important print, but I would not categorize it as specifically rare.

What’s the world auction record for a Richard Estes D-Train print? D-Train holds the world auction record for an Estes print, as you can imagine. The record-holder sold at Christie’s in April 2014 for $62,000.

What’s the likelihood that this print of D-Train will meet or beat that sum? This is an example in very good condition and the provenance is the best that anyone could hope for. We can expect a strong price because of these factors. To me, it’s one of the strongest images in the sale.

Why will this Richard Estes D-Train print stick in your memory? To me, it’s emblematic of what makes a printing studio such a great partner for an artist like Estes–when the printmaker works to achieve the vision of the artist by using their own skills to achieve those goals. And as a New Yorker, I love it. It’s so immediately recognizable.

How to bid: D-Train by Richard Estes is lot 52 in Domberger: 65 Years of Screen Printing, an online sale that Christie’s will conduct between February 28 and March 6, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Lindsay Griffith appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing a set of 10 Campbell’s Soup II prints that Andy Warhol gave to Dr. Giuseppi Rossi, who saved the artist’s life after Valerie Solanas shot him.

Christie’s published an article on its website about the Domberger printmaking studio that prominently features Richard Estes’s D-Train.

Domberger has a website.

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