Abstraktes Bild is an exceptional example from the Abstrakte Bilder series, the creative potential of which had defined Richter’s practice from the end of the 1970s. Richter had sought an entirely new form of imaginative expression for several years prior to the creation of his first colourful abstract pieces, and the chromatically dazzling works - of which Abstraktes Bild can be considered a pinnacle of expression - were a stark contrast to the sombrely hued Grau paintings that had preceded them. He begins by placing a number of white primed canvases around the walls of his studio, eventually working on several simultaneously and re-working them until they are completely harmonised. An extraordinary level of care and patience is involved in the creation of the Abstrakte Bilder: Richter applies the pigments in distinct layers by means of paint brush, palette knife or squeegee, with long pauses between each paint application so that the overall effect of the work is painstakingly considered. Tracts of colour are dragged across the canvas, so that the various strains of malleable, semi-liquid pigment suspended in oil are fused together and smudged first into the canvas, and then layered on top of each other as the paint strata accumulate. Richter has spoken of this process: ‘…the beginning is actually quite easy, because I can still be quite free about the way I handle things – colours, shapes. And so a picture emerges that may look quite good for a while, so airy, colourful and new. But that will only last for a day at most, at which point it starts to look cheap and fake. And then the real work begins – changing, eradicating, starting again, and so on, until it’s done.’ (Gerhard Richter cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 17).
Reflecting on the complex working process behind the Abstrakte Bilder, Richter has described his method as “a multitude of Yes/No decisions, with a Yes to end it all” (the artist, cited in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 251). The myriad exquisite layers that make up Abstaktes Bild can be seen as an affirmation and celebration of these concerns, constructing a painting of thrilling intricacy and profundity, exceptional for the extraordinary dynamism of its palette. Ultimately Abstraktes Bild can be considered one of the most strikingly mesmerising works from the Abstrakte Bilder group: a series that is undoubtedly one of the most significant bodies of work produced by any artist in recent decades.
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