The German-born painter whose divided works transcend categorization.
Gerhard Richter’s body of artwork represents both the introduction of schisms and the attempt to resolve them. However, this theme of conflict traces back to Richter’s early life, before his career as an artist.
Growing up in Germany in the the 1940s and 50s, Richter’s life was subject to the country’s Nazi and Communist regimes. But in his artistic training, Richter found a way to bridge the divide imposed by German communism.
Richter studied Socialist Realist painting in Dresden before moving to West Germany, where he studied avant-garde art in Düsseldorf, befriended fellow students Sigmar Polke, Konrad Fischer-Leug and Georg Baselitz and joined Polke’s new Capitalist Realist movement.
“I don’t believe in the reality of painting, so I use different styles like clothes: it’s a way to disguise myself.”
- Gerhard Richter (1978)
In the 60s Richter developed his highly acclaimed Photo-Paintings series, in which he painted over existing photographs, reconciling both the avant-garde and realism of his artistic training, just as his training itself reconciled two sides of a divided Germany.
“Painting is traditional but for me that doesn’t mean the academy. I felt a need to paint; I love painting. It was something natural — as is listening to music or playing an instrument for some people. For this reason I searched for themes of my era and my generation. Photography offered this, so I chose it as a medium for painting.” — Gerhard Richter (1999)
Richter’s following series investigated the purity of color, free from purposes outside of itself. His Color Charts pieces broke with his abstractionist works to examine the relations established through the interaction of different, pure colors.
Still up until today, Ritcher’s work oscillates between avant-garde abstractionism and naturalistic depiction; refraining from fully resolving the divisions he creates within his own body of work.
Gerhard Richter lives and works in Cologne, Germany. His work has set multiple price records at auction and been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Mariam Goodman Gallery in New York, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He has also participated in the Venice Biennale multiple times. He has been awarded many accolades including the Praemium Imperiale, the Wolf Prize and the Oskar Kokoschka Price.
This post was written with the help of Alice Mahoney.