Art, Oil, Painting, Canvas

Oil Painting – Still Life (2015)

This oil painting was inspired by a work of Gerhard Richter. It is an oil on canvas 16″ x 12″

Gerhard Richter (born 9 February 1932) is a German visual artist and one of the pioneers of the New European Painting that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. Richter has produced abstract as well as photorealistic paintings, and also photographs and glass pieces. His art follows the examples of Picasso and Jean Arp in undermining the concept of the artist’s obligation to maintain a single cohesive style.

In October 2012, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist at $34 million .[1] This was exceeded in May 2013 when his 1968 piece Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral square, Milan) was sold for $37.1 million in New York.[2] This was further exceeded in February 2015 when his painting Abstraktes Bild sold for $44.52 million in London at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale.[3]

Photo-paintings and the “blur”
Richter created various painting pictures from black-and-white photographs during the 1960s and early 1970s, basing them on a variety of sources: newspapers and books, sometimes incorporating their captions, (as in Helga Matura (1966)); private snapshots; aerial views of towns and mountains, (Cityscape Madrid (1968) and Alps (1968)); seascapes (1969–70); and a large multi-partite work made for the German Pavilion in the 1972 Venice Biennale. For Forty-eight Portraits (1971–2), he chose mainly the faces of composers such as Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius, and of writers such as H. G. Wells and Franz Kafka.

From his “Writings”, the following refer to quotations regarding photography, its relationship with painting, and the “blur”:

  • “The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its ways of informing, and in what it informs of, it is my source.”[20]
  • “I don’t create blurs. Blurring is not the most important thing; nor is it an identity tag for my pictures. When I dissolve demarcations and create transition, this is not in order to destroy the representation, or to make it more artistic or less precise. The flowing transitions, the smooth equalizing surface, clarify the content and make the representation credible (an “alla prima” impasto would be too reminiscent of painting, and would destroy the illusion).”
  • “I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. I blur things so that they do not look artistic or craftsmanlike but technological, smooth and perfect. I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information.”

Many of these paintings are made in a multi-step process of representations. He starts with a photograph, which he has found or taken himself, and projects it onto his canvas, where he traces it for exact form. Taking his color palette from the photograph, he paints to replicate the look of the original picture. His hallmark “blur” is achieved sometimes with a light touch of a soft brush, sometimes a hard smear by an aggressive pull with a squeegee.

From around 1964, Richter made a number of portraits of dealers, collectors, artists and others connected with his immediate professional circle. Richter’s two portraits of Betty, his daughter, were made in 1977 and 1988 respectively; the three portraits titled IG were made in 1993 and depict the artist’s second wife, Isa Genzken. Lesende (1994) portrays Sabine Moritz, whom Richter married in 1995, shown absorbed in the pages of a magazine.[23] Many of his realist paintings reflect on the history of National Socialism, creating paintings of family members who had been members, as well as victims of, the Nazi party. From 1966, as well as those given to him by others, Richter began using photographs he had taken as the basis for portraits. In 1975, on the occasion of a show in Düsseldorf, Gilbert & George commissioned Richter to make a portrait of them.

Richter began making prints in 1965. He was most active before 1974, only completing sporadic projects since that time. In the period 1965–74, Richter made most of his prints (more than 100), of the same or similar subjects in his paintings.[26] He has explored a variety of photographic printmaking processes – screenprint, photolithography, and collotype – in search of inexpensive mediums that would lend a “non-art” appearance to his work.[27] He stopped working in print media in 1974, and began painting from photographs he took himself.[26]

While elements of landscape painting appeared initially in Richter’s work early on in his career in 1963, the artist began his independent series of landscapes in 1968 after his first vacation, an excursion that landed him besotted with the terrain of Corsica.[28] Landscapes have since emerged as an independent work group in his oeuvre.[29] According to Dietmar Elger, Richter’s landscapes are understood within the context of traditional of German Romantic Painting. They are compared to the work of Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). Friedrich is foundational to German landscape painting. Each artist spent formative years of their lives in Dresden.[30] Große Teyde-Landschaft (1971) takes its imagery from similar holiday snapshots of the volcanic regions of Tenerife.[31]

Atlas was first exhibited in 1972 at the Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst in Utrecht under the title Atlas der Fotos und Skizzen, it included 315 parts. The work has continued to expand, and was exhibited later in full form at the Lenbachhaus in Munich in 1989, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in 1990, and at Dia Art Foundation in New York in 1995. Atlas continues as an ongoing, encyclopedic work composed of approximately 4,000 photographs, reproductions or cut-out details of photographs and illustrations, grouped together on approximately 600 separate panels.[32]

In 1972 Richter embarked on a ten-day trip to Greenland, his friend Hanne Darboven was meant to accompany him, but instead he traveled alone. His intention was to experience and record the desolate arctic landscape. In 1976, four large paintings, each titled Seascape emerged from the Greenland photographs.[33]

In 1982 and 1983, Richter made a series of paintings of Candles and Skulls that relate to a longstanding tradition of still life memento mori painting. Each composition is most commonly based on a photograph taken by Richter in his own studio. Influenced by old master vanitas painters such as Georges de La Tour and Francisco de Zurbarán, the artist began to experiment with arrangements of candles and skulls placed in varying degrees of natural light, sitting atop otherwise barren tables. The Candle paintings coincided with his first large-scale abstract paintings, and represent the complete antithesis to those vast, colorful and playfully meaningless works. Richter has made only 27 of these still lifes.[34] In 1995, the artist marked the 50th anniversary of the allied bombings of his hometown Dresden during the Second World War. His solitary candle was reproduced on a monumental scale and placed overlooking the River Elbe as a symbol of rejuvenation.[35]

In a 1988 series of 15 ambiguous photo paintings entitled 18 October 1977, he depicted four members of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a German left-wing terrorist organization. These paintings were created from black-and-white newspaper and police photos. Three RAF members were found dead in their prison cells on 18 October 1977 and the cause of their deaths was the focus of widespread controversy.[36] In the late 1980s, Richter had begun to collect images of the group which he used as the basis for the 15 paintings exhibited for the first time in Krefeld in 1989. The paintings were based on an official portrait of Ulrike Meinhof during her years as a radical journalist; on photographs of the arrest of Holger Meins; on police shots of Gudrun Ensslin in prison; on Andreas Baader‘s bookshelves and the record player to conceal his gun; on the dead figures of Meinhof, Ensslin, and Baader; and on the funeral of Ensslin, Baader, and Jan-Carl Raspe.

Since 1989, Richter has worked on creating new images by dragging wet paint over photographs. The photographs, not all taken by Richter himself, are mostly snapshots of daily life: family vacations, pictures of friends, mountains, buildings and streetscapes.

Richter was flying to New York on September 11, 2001, but due to the 9/11 attacks, including on the World Trade Center, his plane was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A few years later, he made one small painting specifically about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center.[37] In September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter, Robert Storr situates Richter’s 2005 painting September within a brand of anti-ideological thought that he finds throughout Richter’s work, he considers how the ubiquitous photographic documentation of the 11 September attacks affects the uniqueness of one’s distinct remembrance of the events, and he offers a valuable comparison to Richter’s 18 October 1977 cycle.[38]

In the 2000s, Richter made a number of works that dealt with scientific phenomena. In 2003, he produced several paintings with the same title: Silicate. Large oil-on-canvas pieces, these show latticed rows of light- and dark-grey blobs whose shapes quasi-repeat as they race across the frame, their angle modulating from painting to painting. They depict a photo, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, of a computer-generated simulacrum of reflections from the silicon dioxide found in insects’ shells.
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