Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter

German Painter

Born: February 9, 1932 - Dresden, Germany
"What I'm attempting in each picture is nothing other than this...to bring together in a living and viable way, the most different and the most contradictory elements in the greatest possible freedom."
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Gerhard Richter Signature
"Photography altered ways of seeing and thinking. Photographs were regarded as true, paintings as artificial. The painted picture was no longer credible; its representation froze into immobility, because it was not authentic but invented."
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"I want to leave everything as it is. I therefore neither plan nor invent; I add nothing and omit nothing. At the same time, I know that I inevitably shall plan, invent, alter, make and manipulate. But I don't know that."
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"Gray is the color.. the most important of all.. absent of opinion, nothing, neither/nor."
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"I'm still very sure that painting is one of the most basic human capacities, like dancing and singing, that make sense, that stay with us, as something human."
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"Every museum is full of nice things. That's the opposite of before. It was important things or serious things. Now we have interesting things."
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"I believe in painting and I believe in eating too. What can we do? We have to eat, we have to pain, we have to live. Of course, there are different ways to survive. But it's my best option."
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"I don't dare to think my paintings are great. I can't understand the arrogance of someone saying, 'I have created a big, important work.'"
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Summary of Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter is a German painter who originally trained in a realist style and later developed an appreciation for the more progressive work of his American and European contemporaries. Richter increasingly employed his own painting as a means for exploring how images that appear to capture "truth" often prove, on extended viewing, far less objective, or unsure in meaning, than originally assumed. The other common themes in his work are the elements of chance, and the play between realism and abstraction. Working alongside but never fully embracing a quick succession of late-20th-century art movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, American/British Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, Richter has absorbed many of their ideas while remaining skeptical of all grand artistic and philosophical credos.

Accomplishments

  • Richter has maintained a lifelong fascination for the power of images and painting's long, uneasy relationship with photography: while either medium may claim to reflect or express reality truthfully, either ultimately suggests only a partial, or incomplete view of a subject.
  • Richter borrows much of his painted imagery from newspapers, or even his own family albums. Often he begins by mechanically projecting such an image onto the canvas, a technique for thinking about how images often seem to have a life of their own, like mysterious ghosts haunting our psyche. This act of visual compression, in which photography, projection, and painting merge to make a finished art work, suggests that all vision is a kind of conversion of the "real" into the "imaginary."
  • Richter would often blur his subjects and embrace chance effects in his own painting process in order to show the impossibility of any artist conveying the full truth of a subject in its original condition. Such means for suggesting that something essential to the model has been "lost in translation" often leads a viewer's attention to the oil pigment's dense, material nature, thereby demonstrating both its expressive strengths and shortcomings.
  • In Richter's completely abstract canvases, personal emotion and all traces of the painter's autobiography seem missing. The painting's many layers, strokes, and scrapes of color may thus appear as "beautiful" as anything found in nature that came into existence partly according to a predetermined structure (such as DNA), as well as by way of unpredictable occasions of pure chance and the action of outside forces.

Biography of Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter Life and Legacy

Gerhard Richter was born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, during the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or the Nazi Third Reich. Notably, some of Richter's relatives were directly involved in the Nazi movement, namely his father, a schoolteacher, and an uncle. Richter's mother, the daughter of a concert pianist, encouraged her son's early talent for draftsmanship. In 1948, at the age of 16, Richter quit his formal education and took up an apprenticeship as a set painter for the theater. The wake of war proved traumatic for Richter: two of his uncles had been killed in action, and his father had lost his employment. This family turmoil, coupled with the artist's early artistic training under postwar communist-driven ideology, eventually led Richter to seek his creative inspiration in nature over any political or religious affairs or philosophies.

Important Art by Gerhard Richter

Progression of Art
1963

Mund(Mouth)(Brigitte Bardot's Lips)

Mund is one of Richter's first paintings completed from a photograph. The painting is sexually suggestive, depicting Brigitte Bardot's open mouth adorned with red lipstick. Blurred flesh tones hint at Richter's painting process, beginning with a realist rendering and incorporating rollers, squeegees, and dry brush techniques to mask the surface. The work suggests the artist viewing reality from a detached perspective, as he resists any moment of clear focus on the overall image.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

1968

Farbschlieren (Color Streaks)

In this example of one of his early grey paintings, Richter allows structure and color to compose the "picture." The painting is void of figuration and recognizable imagery, revealing Richter's indifference toward any "model" as serving as his subject matter. Richter employs thick brushstrokes and monochromatic color, thus sweeping across the canvas in a fluid, entirely fused motion. This powerful gesture suggests a consideration of how abstract forms may well serve as a painter's subject just as effectively, for their visual or optical interest, as any photographic or "realistic" scene derived from nature, or the "everyday world" around us.

Oil on canvas

1973

1024 Farben(1024 Colors)

Richter employs a systematic approach to the canvas in his color-chart-based painting 1024 Farben (1024 Colors). Superficially reminiscent of the neo-Dadaist, 1950s "Hard Edge" abstraction of Ellsworth Kelly, Richter chooses here to systematically paint squares of colors based on the predetermined structure of the color wheel. The only intervention of the artist in an otherwise mechanical process seems to be his control of the scale of the canvas itself, the artist's having arranged the color combinations via reference to an apparently logical, predetermined schema.

Enamel on canvas - Daros Collection, Zurich, Switzerland

1976

Abstraktes Bild(Abstract Painting)

In 1976, Richter first employed the term "Abstract Painting" as a formal title for many of his works, such as this example. Cool tones of purple and blue create a hazy, shallow atmospheric perspective. The composition is structured with geometric shapes and lines that might at first appear as fractured icebergs emerging from the painted surface, only to settle down, as it were, into pure abstraction. Richter did not want to offer a definitive explanation for his abstract work, stating only that he was "letting a thing come, rather than creating it." Standing in relation to such work, a viewer begins to question whether what he/she perceives is fact or fiction, real or artificial, as though slowly being trained in a new school of visual philosophy.

Oil on canvas

1982

Clouds

Clouds is an example of how Richter frequently alternates between realist and abstract styles in various series of work, as well as on a single canvas. In this instance, even the title bears an ambiguous relation to the entire composition. In the lower region of the canvas, for instance, Richter suggests that the viewer is having a perceptual experience of looking through a window; nevertheless, the bold tracks, scrapes, smudges, and layer of paint above playfully cancel that optical illusion. Thus Richter is frequently fascinated by how a viewer's desire to extract "meaning" from a given work of art often proves utterly futile. He suggests that we might instead relish a simple experience of visual pleasure, or the discovery of "beauty" by way of studying abstract forms for their own sake.

Oil on canvas (two panels) - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1988

Erschossener 1 (Man Shot Down 1)

For most of his career, Richter avoided political motifs in his work. A notable exception is the series October 18, 1977, in which he depicts radical Baader-Meinhof terrorists who inexplicably died in jail (it remains unclear to this day whether these young radicals committed suicide or were murdered by the police). In Erschossener 1 (Man Shot Down 1), Richter has used a photographic reference to create a blurred, monochromatic painting of a dead inmate. The morbid scene might be said to exemplify the vanity behind the terrorists' actions; at the same time, the persistent obscurity of the image replicates the eternal mystery behind the inmates' deaths, as well as the impossibility of securely capturing truth in any one canvas.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1994

Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Picture)

In a series of completely abstract works of the early 1990s, Richter challenges the eye of the viewer to detect anything in the field of vision other than the pure elements of his art: color, gesture, the layering of pasty materials, and the artist's impersonal raking of these concoctions in various ways that allow chance combinations to emerge from the surface. Richter suggests only a shallow space akin to that of a mirror. The viewer is finally coaxed to set aside all searches for "content" that might originate from outside these narrow parameters and find satisfaction in the object's beauty in and of itself, as though one were relishing a fine textile. One thus appreciates the numerous colors and transitions that occur in this painting, many having been created outside the complete control of the artist much as nature often creates wondrous optical pleasures partly by design, and partly by accident.

Oil on canvas - Tate, London

2000

Moritz (2000)

Ostensibly a painting of his young son, Moritz exemplifies Richter's affinity for striking a tense balance between abstraction and figuration. This painting is a hybrid, seemingly fluctuating between two contrasting, unfinished areas, one section realistically rendered (in part harking back to Richter's Social Realist education), the other fading off into ethereal "white noise." Moritz is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's combination of appropriated imagery and painted silkscreen techniques; a hazy glow seemingly emanates from the young boy, thus providing a powerful contrast to the material reality of the painted surface.

Oil on canvas - De Pont Museum voor hedendaagse kunst, Tilburg, The Netherlands

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Content compiled and written by Larissa Borteh

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Gerhard Richter Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Larissa Borteh
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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