There are few artists who have been as influential and perhaps none who have mastered their medium more absolutely than Gerhard Richter. Fascinated by the tension and ambiguity in the interaction between painting and photography, Richter adhered to the belief that “the photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its way of informing, and in what it informs of, it is my source” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes, 1964-1965’, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews 1962-1993
, London 1995, p. 31). In choosing to paint from a source so autonomous and absolute, Richter sought to eliminate the expressionist gesture and editorial judgment inherent to a painting based on life, literally blurring the lines between abstraction and figuration.
For as much as the photo-paintings represent a want for absolute truth, Richter’s Schattenbild
, 1968 presents us with an illusionistic narrative too enticing to ignore. Two sides of a bright white frame have been fused together on the left corner of the canvas as a light source from outside the plane projects at a skewed angle to generate the ominous shadow. The viewer—and perhaps the owner of the light source—is positioned outside and above the half frame, rendering the image incomplete without the viewer’s participation. Combined with Richter’s trademark “soft-focus” blurring effect, the viewer is asked to contemplate both the realness of the picture as well as the geometric abstraction it has become.
Choosing to work solely with black, white and gray in the beginning of his career, Richter “disassociates [his sources] from their original contexts, reinforcing this effect in his paintings through the introduction of blurriness. The outcome is a diffuse impression that evokes a kind of memorial painting detached from current events” (Exh. Cat., Burgdorf, Museum Franz Gertsch, Ohne Farbe|Without Color, 2005, p. 13). Each portrait, landscape, cityscape, or rendering of a shadow is treated with the same distanced grayscale, creating an incredibly varied corpus rich with personal memories that have been desensitized via absence of color in the search for an objective truth.