Gerhard Richter is well-known for producing both abstract and photo-realist paintings. He also works in photography and with glass. Notably, his work Abstraktes Bild, sold in February 2015 for $44.52 million; a record price paid for the work of a living artist.
Gerhard Richter was born in 1932, in Dresden, Germany to Horst Richter, a schoolteacher and Hildegard Schönfelder. He began his studies at Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951, where he gained a thorough knowledge of the masters and was trained with Karl von Appen, Will Grohmann and Heinz Lohmar.
It was an early encounter with the work of the artists Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana that proved a turning point in the young artist’s mind. The immediacy of their application of paint spurred him into wanting to engage in the dialogues of modern art.
After emigrating in 1961, to West Germany to study in Düsseldorf, he soon encountered artists Sigmar Polke and Konrad Leug. He quickly became known for paintings of photographs sourced from family photo albums and selected from magazines and newspapers, which scrutinized the function of the photograph as document and as means of advertising. In 1963 he expanded this criticality of material, in purposefully dragging his brush, linearly across his seemingly finished paintings, which at once blurred the work’s subject, creating flowing transition throughout the paintings’ subjects and brought focused attention to the photorealistic image’s identity as having been painted. In Richter’s words from around this time, “I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant”.
Between 1966 and 1974, Richter painted three series of color chart paintings, in which he applied square blocks of individual hues of paint to large canvases. He had previously undertaken a number of grey paintings, which followed much the same format, however, simply using shades of grey.
Richter entitled many of his abstract paintings, simply, ‘Abstraktes Bild’ (‘Abstract Image’), the first of which was produced in 1976. Richter’s process within this idiom of his practice has remained relatively constant since the mid-1980s. The paintings are the accumulation of many layers of unmixed paint, applied directly on large canvases, which is spread horizontally or vertically and scraped with the use of a large, homemade squeegee.
It was for these abstract paintings that in the 1980s and 90s, he achieved international celebrity. He also applies this same squeegee method of painting directly onto printed photographs – partially obscuring the subject seemingly at random, with thick smears of colour. These painted photographs are cryptically often individually titled simply by the date on which each photograph was taken.
Richter’s practice of copying photographs, because they are pure images; “without style”, has been no more faithfully committed to, than in his continuing painting of landscapes. His proclivity for painting rural, wooded or agricultural scenes and cloudy, Wagnerian seascapes runs, throughout his illustrious career.
Richter’s work with glass began in 1967, with Four Planes of Glass, which was comprise of four, framed glass panes, stacked consecutively. Its strong conceptual character was a good fit for conceptualism’s then, fashionable status in the art world.
Richter was commissioned in the early noughties to design a large stained glass window for the south transept of Cologne Cathedral. The window is comprised of (in a similar manner to his color charts) in excess of eleven thousand of his characteristic squared blocks of primary colors. The window was received with mixed reactions. The Cathedral’s Cardinal, did not approve of it and was not present at its unveiling.
In spite of having been lauded both critically and in the broader art world, throughout his career, it was not until his 2005 retrospective at the Tate Modern gallery in London, in which he was purported as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, that his fame truly materialized.
He has since 1985, been represented by Marion Goodman gallery in London and around 40% of all his works are owned by art institutions and museums around the world. He has respectively exhibited at the Venice Biennale and at Documenta, many times and has had several retrospectives in American galleries across Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington D.C. In the past ten years, he has had several major solo exhibitions across London and in Paris and Berlin.