Los Angeles, CA
In some circles, Gerhard Richter is considered the greatest living painter. It's hard to say who's the best. Like when Ted Williams was alive, he was considered the best living ball player and it was hard to argue against that assertion. As long as Michael Jordan is alive, no one on Earth is a better basketball player. But is Gerhard Richter really the best? What constitutes best? Talent? Style? Most paintings sold? Critical acclaim? Commercial success?
In case you were wondering, one of Richter's paintings owned by Eric Clapton fetched $34.2 million at a Sotherby's auction last year. That price tage set the record for most expensive painting sold by a living artist.
The German-born Richter grew up in Dresden and got split from his family in 1961 during the break-up of Germany in the wake of the Cold War. He fled to West Germany to study painting, while his parents were stuck behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany. For almost two decades, he tried to get a travel permit but East German authorities denied permission to visit his family because he was considered a political refugee. The heartache caused by the distance from his loved ones was a theme that resonated through his early work. He never saw his parents alive again. They died before German reunification.
You might have heard of Gerhard Richter's name before. Maybe it was his series of paintings on skulls?
|Schädel 548-2 (1983)|
Richter also gained notoriety in the 1980s for his photo-realist depiction of candles and clouds. He's so fucking talented he can paint flickers of fire that look like photographs, and he painted clouds that looked like the actual sky.
|Kerze 511-3 (1982)|
Or maybe the Richter you know was those (predominately) horizontal stripe paintings or the "Strip" series as he called it?
|Strip 920-6 (2011)|
Or perhaps you've seen his gigantic abstract smudge or "blur" paintings? Those abstracts were featured in the documentary Gerhard Richter Painting.
|Abstraktes Bild 868-6 (2000)|
Richter's blurry smudge paintings were a huge influence on some of my amateur work.
If you look at Richter's recent smudge paintings as the latest chapter in an entire volume of work spanning 50 years, then you can appreciate the minimalist abstract effect that he embraced in the twilight of his life. Richter's ever-changing style evolved from murals to portraits to landscapes and seascapes to townscapes to photo-realism (precise images) to abstract smudge (vague images). Check out the last series of paintings he worked on in the documentary (see below), and you'll see a remarkable series of light grey and dirty white smudge paintings.
|Abstraktes Bild 911-1 (2009)|
The painter who could make paintings look so realistic that it was a total mindfuck flipped everything upside down and reached a level of simplistic sophistication with wispy images. Instead of ramming a pretentious theme down your throat like most artists, Richter is instilling more trust in the viewer to interpret their own mood/feelings, but doing so with wall-sized smudges. Richter said he liked to blur things to "make everything equally important and unimportant."
"Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense," said Richter, in trying to explain how making art was similar to one's search for God.
Once you get where he's coming from, you can understand how he tried to convey multiple layers of "truth" through varying techniques over his career. Richter tried to give you a clear image of truth with his photo-realist style (see painting of the girl reading the newspaper below), but he also wanted you to see an overwhelming distorted blurry view (via smudge paintings) of the transient aspect of the human experience.
|Lesende Reader (1993)|
"Since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth," explained Richter. "We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth."
Check out more Gerhard Richter paintings here.
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This is a good interview with Richter (in English)...
Here is the documentary called Gerhard Richter Painting. It's in German but with English subtitles. Watch it ASAP before it gets yanked down by the YT police...