Gerhard Richter (born February 9, 1932) is a German artist. Richter is considered by some critics as one of the most important German artists of the post-World War II period and is also one of the world's most expensive, with his paintings often selling for several million dollars apiece.
Richter was born in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia, and in Waltersdorf in the Upper Lusatian countryside. He left school after tenth grade and apprenticed as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Art Academy. In 1948 he terminated the higher professional school in Zittau, and, between 1949 and 1951, was trained there in writing as well as in stage and advertising painting. In 1950 his application for membership in the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Dresden University of Visual Arts, founded in 1764) was rejected. He finally began his study at the Dresden Academy of Arts in 1951. His teachers were Karl von Appen, Ulrich Lohmar and Will Grohmann. In these 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. A further mural followed within the Hygienemusem (German Hygienic Museum) with the title („Lebensfreude“, which means "Joy of life") for his diploma.
Both paintings had been painted over for ideological reasons after Richter escaped from East to West Germany (2 months before the building of the Berlin wall); after unification of both German states, the wall painting "Joy of life" (1956) was uncovered in two places in the stairway of the German Hygienic Museum, and after the millennium these two uncovered windows with a look at the "Joy of Life" has been newly recovered. From 1957 to 1961 Richter worked as a master trainee on the academy and took orders for the former state of the GDR. During this time he worked intensively at murals ("Arbeiterkampf", which means "Worker fight"), on paintings in oil (f.e. portraits of the well known 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).
Richter taught as a visiting professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and became tenured professor in 1971 at Düsseldorf Art Academy. In 1983, Richter resettled from Düsseldorf to Cologne, where he still lives today.
Richter married Marianne Eufinger in 1957. Nine years later, she gave birth to his first daughter, Betty. He married his second wife, the sculptor Isa Genzken, in 1982. Richter had his son, Moritz, with his third wife, Sabine Moritz, the year they were married, 1995. One year later, his second daughter, Ella Maria, was born.
Richter had his first solo show, Gerhard Richter, in 1964 at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf. Soon after, he had exhibitions in Munich and Berlin and by the early 1970s exhibited frequently throughout Europe and the United States. His fourth retrospective, Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting, curated by Robert Storr, opened at New York's Museum of Modern Art in February 2002, then traveled to Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
The Gerhard Richter Archive was established in cooperation with the artist in 2005 as an institute of the State Art Collections in Dresden, Germany (www.gerhard-richter-archiv.de).
Richter has published a number of catalogues, monographs, and books of his artwork and notes on painting, and has been awarded many honors and prizes for his art. He continues to make and exhibit paintings.
Although Richter gained popularity and critical praise throughout his career, his fame burgeoned during his 2005 retrospective exhibition, which declared his place among the most important artists of the 20th century. Today, many call Gerhard Richter the best living painter. In part, this comes from his ability to explore the medium at a time when many were heralding its death.
In 2005 Richter, in an interview by the German political magazine Spiegel, urged the citizens of Salzburg to "do something about" a sculpture by Markus Lüpertz, and described the work as expressing the deprivation of public art sponsorship in Germany. The sculpture, an homage to Mozart, was promptly attacked by a right-wing art activist from Austria and badly damaged.
Richter's work is full of tension between depicted reality and the actuality of painting: process and material. Back to the 1950s in his time in Eastern Germany's Dresden he is known for his photo-paintings, particularly his landscapes, and his involved abstract paintings. Despite the scope of his body of work, which is commonly misunderstood as polar, Richter's paintings consistently support a unified theme that is twofold: 1. Images (and ideas and ideals) are static, superficial, and unachievable and are to be doubted; and, 2. Reality is a process of imagination and material creation and revision. Richter’s subject is the range of relationships between illusion and this reality, his painting.
Richter has stated that his use of photographic imagery as a starting point for his early paintings was a result of attempting to escape the complicated process of deciding what to paint, along with the critical and theoretical implications accompanying such decisions within the context of modernist discourses. 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; a collection of thousands of photographs, and cropped magazine and newspaper images compiled in one single volume.
Many of Richter's 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: 1. It offers the image a photographic appearance; and 2. Paradoxically, it testifies the painter's actions, both skilled and coarse, and the plastic nature of the paint itself.
In some paintings blurs and smudges are severe enough to disrupt the image; it becomes hard to understand or believe. The subject is nullified. 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.
In a 1988 series of fifteen ambiguous photo paintings entitled 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. It is interesting to compare Richter's painting with the early work of Vija Celmins with whom he shares some similarities of subject and style.
In his abstract pictures, Richter builds up cumulative layers of nonrepresentational painting. The paintings evolve in stages, based on his responses to the picture’s progress: the incidental details and patterns that emerge. Throughout his process, Richter uses the same techniques he uses in his representational paintings, blurring and scraping to veil and expose prior layers.
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.
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.
His 2004 book War Cut combines 216 closeup photos of his 1987 painting No. 648-2 with the same number of newspaper articles from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the beginning of the Iraq War.
In August 2007, Richter's stained glass in the Cologne Cathedral was unveiled. It is an 113 square metre abstract collage of 11,500 pixel-like squares in 72 colors, randomly arranged by computer (with some symmetry), reminiscent of his 1974 painting "4096 colors". Richter designed the window for free. Cardinal Joachim Meisner did not attend the window's unveiling; he had preferred a figurative representation of 20th century Christian martyrs and said that Richter's window would fit better in a mosque or prayer house.
Throughout the body of Richter's work one can often observe waves of minimalism appearing often to disappear again. It may be noted that perhaps it may be necessary to view Richter as a conceptual artist wherein his individual pieces point towards a very painterly approach while possibly this may not be his intent. If one views the progressions in the individual series as single works a very different concept erupts. While many critics agree that this analysis may be necessary, let us take it one step further assuming that Richter's small series is analogous to his entire body of work, one sees the same images of realism to blur. For example Eight Grey 2002. It may be considered thus his interest is in the progression, not the individual images nor the qualities of paint nor any other medium he uses. In this a new idea of minimalism is born, a minimalism where the material means nothing however its use is technically masterful. As was said by Jan Van Eyck in the inscription on the frame of Man in the Red Turban "Als Ich Kann" which are the first words of the proverb "As I can, but not as I would."
Biographical information from Wikipedia.