Gerhard Richter (born 9 February 1932) is a German visual artist. Richter has simultaneously produced abstract and photorealistic painted works, as well as photographs and glass pieces, thus following the examples of Picasso and Jean Arp in undermining the concept of the artist’s obligation to maintain a single cohesive style.
Richter is regarded as the top-selling living artist. In October 2012, Richter's Abstraktes Bild set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist at £21m ($34m).
The son of a schoolteacher, Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia, and in Waltersdorf (Zittauer Gebirge) in the Upper Lusatian countryside. He left school after 10th grade and apprenticed as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1948 he finished higher professional school in Zittau, and, between 1949 and 1951, successively worked as an apprentice with a sign painter, a photographer and as a painter. In 1950 his application for membership in the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Dresden University of Visual Arts, founded in 1764) was rejected as "too bourgeois". He finally began his studies at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951. His teachers were Karl von Appen, Heinz Lohmar and Will Grohmann.
In the early days of his career, he prepared a wall painting ("Communion with Picasso", 1955) for the refectory of this Academy of Arts as part of his B.A. Another mural followed at the Hygiene-Museum (German Hygiene Museum) entitled "Lebensfreude" ("Joy of life"), for his diploma and intended to produce an effect "similar to that of wall paper or tapestry".
Both paintings were painted over for ideological reasons after Richter escaped from East to West Germany (two months before the building of the Berlin Wall); after German reunification two "windows" of the wall painting Joy of life (1956) were uncovered in the stairway of the German Hygiene Museum, but these were later covered over when it was decided to restore the Museum to its original 1930 state. From 1957 to 1961 Richter worked as a master trainee in the academy and took orders for the former state of the GDR. During this time, he worked intensively on murals (Arbeiterkampf, which means Worker fight), on oil paintings (e.g. portraits of the East German actress Angelica Domroese and of Richter's first wife Ema), on various self portraits and furthermore, on a panorama of Dresden with the neutral name Stadtbild (Townscape, 1956).
When he escaped to West Germany, Richter began to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Karl Otto Götz. With Polke and Lueg he introduced the term Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capitalistic Realism) as an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial shorthand of advertising. This title also referred to the realist style of art known as Socialist Realism, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union, but it also commented upon the consumer-driven art doctrine of western capitalism. Later, Lueg founded the gallery Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf.
Richter taught at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, as a visiting professor, and returned to the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1971, where he was a professor for over 15 years.
In 1983, Richter resettled from Düsseldorf to Cologne, where he still lives and works today.
Richter married Marianne Eufinger in 1957; she gave birth to his first daughter. He married his second wife, the sculptor Isa Genzken, in 1982. Richter had a son and daughter with his third wife, Sabine Moritz after they were married in 1995.
In 2005 Richter, in an interview by the German political magazine Der Spiegel, wondered why citizens of Salzburg did not protest against a sculpture by Markus Lüpertz, and described the work as expressing the deprivation of public art sponsorship in Germany. The sculpture, declared as a homage to Mozart by its creator, was promptly attacked by a right-wing art activist from Austria and badly damaged. The statue depicted a grotesque nude figure with both male and female features and was characterized as pornography by the two elderly men prosecuted for the vandalism during which they painted over it and stuck feathers onto it.
Nearly all of Richter’s work demonstrates both illusionistic space that seems natural and the physical activity and material of painting—as mutual interferences. For Richter, reality is the combination of new attempts to understand—to represent; in his case, to paint—the world surrounding us.
Richter created various painting pictures from black-and-white photographs during the 1960s and early 1970s, basing them on a variety of sources: from newspapers and books, sometimes incorporating their captions, as in Helga Matura (1966); private snapshots; aerial views of towns and mountains, for example 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, Forty-eight Portraits (1971–2), for which 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.
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"—sometimes a softening by the light touch of a soft brush, sometimes a hard smear by an aggressive pull with his squeegee—has two effects:
In some paintings blurs and smudges are severe enough to disrupt the image; it becomes hard to understand or believe. The subject is nullified.[original research?] In these paintings, images and symbols (such as landscapes, portraits, and news photos) are rendered fragile illusions, fleeting conceptions in our constant reshaping of the world.
Richter has stated that the use of photographic imagery as a starting point for his early paintings resulted from an attempt to escape the complicated process of deciding what to paint, along with the critical and theoretical implications accompanying such decisions within the context of a modernist discourse. To achieve this, Richter began amassing photos from magazines, books, etc., many of which became the subject matter of his early photography-based paintings. Thus the Atlas was born: Atlas is 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. When Atlas was first exhibited in 1972 at the Museum for 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.
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. 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 photographs 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 and 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, during which Richter made most of his prints (more than 100), the same or similar subjects often occurred in both his paintings and prints. 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. He stopped working in print media in 1974, at about the same time as he gave up painting from found photographs, and began to use photographs he took himself.
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. Landscapes have since emerged as an independent work group in his oeuvre. According to Dietmar Elger, "Richter's landscapes are almost invariably understood in terms of the great historical tradition of German Romantic Painting. They are especially compared to the work of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). ... The comparison with Friedrich makes excellent sense. Not only is Friedrich foundational to the very notion of German landscape painting, but each artist spent important years of his life in Dresden. Indeed, several critics have concluded that, despite being separated by more than a century, the two share a similar experience of nature." Große Teyde-Landschaft (1971) takes its imagery from similar holiday snapshots of the volcanic regions of Tenerife. In 1972 Richter had embarked on a ten-day trip to Greenland, originally having intended to be accompanied by his friend Hanne Darboven, but eventually journeying 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.
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. 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.
In a 1988 series of 15 ambiguous photo paintings entitled Baader-Meinhof (October 18, 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 October 18, 1977, and the cause of their deaths was the focus of widespread controversy. 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 Twin Towers. 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 September 11th attacks affects the uniqueness of one’s distinct remembrance of the events, and he offers a valuable comparison to Richter’s “October 18, 1977” cycle.
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 FAZ, of a computer-generated simulacrum of reflections from the silicon dioxide found in insects' shells.
Coming full-circle from his early Table (1962) in which he cancelled his photorealist image with haptic swirls of grey paint, in 1969, Richter produced the first of a group of grey monochromes that consist exclusively of the textures resulting from different methods of paint application.
Richter’s abstract work is remarkable for the illusion of space that develops, ironically, out of his incidental process: an accumulation of spontaneous, reactive gestures of adding, moving, and subtracting paint. Despite unnatural palettes, spaceless sheets of color, and obvious trails of the artist’s tools, the abstract pictures often act like windows through which we see the landscape outside. As in his representational paintings, there is an equalization of illusion and paint. In those paintings, he reduces worldly images to mere incidents of Art. Similarly, in his abstract pictures, Richter exalts spontaneous, intuitive mark-making to a level of spatial logic and believability.
The Gerhard Richter Archive was established in cooperation with the artist in 2005 as an institute of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
Tate Modern - 2011-12.