Gerhard Richter (born 9 February 1932, Dresden, Germany) is a modern German painter recognized as one of the most influential living artists.
Creative features of Gerhard Richter's art. Richter came to his artistic maturity at a difficult moment in history, when contemporary art and global politics reached their historic milestones. He combined his socialist realist education with more conceptually complex avant-garde developments coming from Europe and the United States. The new generation increasingly proclaimed the “death of painting”, it was interested more in the conceptual potential of art than in mastering long traditions of craftsmanship. Richter demonstrated that painting could still seriously question all images, regardless of their source of origin, whether it is the media, cinema, the Internet, the ubiquitous commercial advertisement, or even a family photo album. In the artist’s work, two sides are combined: history and almost photographic imagery on the one hand, and the crisis of figurativeness and the desire for absolute abstraction on the other. Richter considers himself neither a realist, nor a minimalist, nor a conceptualist, even following all these trends. He has created a number of extremely beautiful images and maintains a very high standard of fine art.
Famous artworks of Gerhard Richter. “Ema (Naked on a Staircase)”, Cathedral Square, Milan, "Betty",“1024 colors” from the Color Charts series, Abstract Painting cycle, stained glass window of the Cologne Cathedral.
Gerhard Richter was born into the family of a high school teacher and bookseller. His interest in art began to take its shape after World War II. The mother encouraged her son to read, and it was the huge supply of illustrated books that prompted the boy to draw. In an interview, the artist said that he learned about art “from books and from small folios with art prints [...] I remember Diego Velazquez, Albrecht Durer, Lovis Corinth". One of his early sketches, at the age of 14, was a nude figure copied from a book, to which his parents reacted with pride and embarrassment.
In 1951, Richter entered the Higher School of Fine Arts in Dresden. “It was a very traditional, academic school in which we learned from plaster copies and nude models,” he recalled. “Socialist realism was at the forefront, and the Dresden Academy was especially strict in this regard.” The study of modernist experiments was forbidden, but there were exceptions. Pablo Picasso and Renato Guttuso for example, were tolerated by the authorities for their outspoken support of communism.
A turning point in Richter’s career was his visit to II. documenta in Kassel in 1959. There he saw the works of Jackson Pollock, Lucio Fontana and Jean Fautrier as “an expression of a completely different and completely new content”, and he realized the creative prohibitions imposed on him. The new round of the Cold War forced the artist and his wife Ema to flee from the GDR to West Germany in March 1961.
Despite the fact that Richter had already graduated from the Academy in Dresden, he decided to enter the State Academy of Arts in Düsseldorf. “I tried everything I could,” he said, describing his work during that period as “changing in style between Dubuffet, Giacometti, Tapies and many others. ” The artist destroyed most of the experiments of that time.
At the academy, Richter made friends with Sigmar Polke, Konrad Fischer and Blinky Palermo. They held a joint exhibition in May 1963 in an empty store in Düsseldorf’s old city centre. And in October, an exposition followed in a furniture store in the city, where the artists presented the results of their creative search under the tongue-in-cheek title “Living with Pop — A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism”. This exhibition aroused considerable interest and embodied the energy, curiosity, humour and spirit of Richter and his companions.
Richter’s paintings began to show his interest in current events, consumer society, the media and mass culture. In the early works that marked the beginning of the professional career of the artist, the decisive breakthrough was the use of photographic images, which was previously untenable for him and for academic painting. It was this approach that marked his work in the following decades.
1966 was a pivotal year for Richter. He began exhibiting not only in Germany, but also abroad. The artit created one of his most famous works Ema (Nude on a Staircase) and began a series of geometric abstractions called Color Charts (1, 2, 3, 4). Geometric elements are firmly entrenched in his work; they reappeared, for example, in his design of the stained glass window of the Cologne Cathedral in 2007. In 1968, Richter turned his attention to urban landscapes. The Cathedral Square, Milan canvas was followed by views of Madrid, Paris and other cities.
In 1972, Richter represented Germany at the 36th Venice Biennale. For the first time during the existence of this forum, one artist was provided with a whole pavilion. For the Biennale, Richter created a "48 portraits" series, it featured the famous people from the previous two centuries — scientists, composers, philosophers and writers — using encyclopaedia photographs as source material.
By the end of the 1970s, a series of colourful abstract works was developed, simply signed Abstract Painting (Abstraktes Bild —
1, 2, 3, 4, 5). For a while, the grey and brown colours in the artist’s palette were replaced by bold and vibrant colours in different patterns, textures, surfaces and in different techniques. They offered a vigorous exploration of optics and perception, planes, depth, space, shape, colour and light. This became a significant stage in Richter’s work and laid the foundations for his future directions — such series as Sinbad (1, 2, 3, 4), Aladdin (1, 2, 3, 4) and Cage (1, 2, 3).
In 1988, Richter made a series of paintings in a completely new style. The 18. Oktober 1977 series (1, 2, 3, 4) are images of the day when several members of the Red Army Faction radical group were found dead in prison. Their deaths were declared suicide, although a number of circumstances indicated that they could have been taken out. Richter’s grisaille series depicts key moments in the events that led to their death. According to the artist, there is no politics in his works, he was struck by “the social aspirations of these people... the frightening power of the idea, for which they did not hesitate to die”.
In the same year, Richter painted another work that became his signature one — the portrait of his daughter Betty. She is depicted in a floral hooded red and white cardigan or a robe, turned away from the viewer into a dark grey void, which turns out to be one of her father’s abstract paintings on closer inspection.
By the late 1980s, Richter had become one of the most prominent artists in Germany and the world. In 2002, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted a major retrospective of his work entitled Forty Years of Painting. The exposition included 190 works — that was one of the most complete exhibitions of the artist to date.
In 2012, Gerhard Richter became the most expensive living artist when his Abstract Painting (809-4) (1994) was auctioned for $ 34 million. He repeated the record twice — first in 2013, when he sold his Cathedral Square, Milan for $ 37.1 million, and then in 2015, when they paid for his Abstract Painting (1986) $ 44.52 million at auction. Now the painter lives and works in Cologne. His artworks are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London and the Albertina in Vienna.
As one of the most influential living artists, Richter is actively involved in the global dialogue about the future and goals of art. Even having celebrated his 80th birthday in 2012, he continues to work actively and develop various areas of his work.
Author: Vlad Maslov