Private Collection, New York
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2005)
Christie’s, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 14 February 2012, Lot 4
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Armin Zweite, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, 1993-2004, Dusseldorf 2005, n.p., no. 819-4, illustrated in colour
Gerhard Richter quoted in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist and David Britt, Eds., Gerhard Richter The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews, 1962-1993, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1995, p. 100.
As a delicate exponent of Gerhard Richter’s iconic experimentation within the realm of pure abstraction, Abstraktes Bild instigates a profoundly poetic dialect that reifies the phenomenological capacities of painting. Encompassing its own pictorial world, the work stands as an ode to the chromatic advances that have endowed painting with the capacity to alter perception. Widely regarded as the preeminent living painter of our time, Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder forms part of a diverse oeuvre that confronts the ontology of painting and has made profound contributions to the history of contemporary art.
Richter’s pictorial interrogation of abstraction dates back to the early 1960s, but it was not until 1976 that he introduced his innovative use of the squeegee; a crude tool, nonetheless wielded with unparalleled virtuosity. Effortlessly drawing strains of ghostly oil pigment across the canvas surface, Richter willingly allows permutations of blended tones and textures to emerge, dictated partly by the laws of chance. In contrast to the precise narrative and almost invisible brush of his photo paintings, Richter’s submission to the squeegee challenges his own authorial control and reconfigures our conception of mark-making: “It is a good technique for switching off thinking. Consciously, I can’t calculate the result. But subconsciously, I can sense it. This is a nice ‘between’ state” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Stefan Koldehoff, ‘Gerhard Richter. ‘Malerie ist eine moralilsche Handlung’, Wolkenkratzer Art Journal, April - June 1985, p. 40).The squeegee also calls upon the idiosyncratic ‘blur’ of earlier photo paintings. Party to the wider project that guides the artist’s corpus, we again approach what the artist has described as “Photography by other means” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: ‘Interview with Rolf Schön, 1972’ in: Dietmar Elger and H. Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter, TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters: 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 73). Evoking the painterly permutations of a negative film or the blurred inconsistencies of an unfocused image, Abstraktes Bild forms an extraordinary riposte to the canon of twentieth-century abstraction via the photographic.
Utilising a scale that is at once physically intimate, yet pictorially vast, the present work is one of only four that Richter created in the 61 by 71cm format in 1994. Preceded by five works of a rotated orientation (71 by 61cm), the well-practiced works from this period are characterised by a unique sense of loose fluidity and defined abstract swathes that punctuate the canvas. Nonetheless they still maintain a strict sense of graduated linearity and directional effusion as witnessed most perfectly in the present example. Tremoring lines like fine hairs or waves of heat subtly pulsate with regimentality, imbuing the canvas with a unique energy. Crucially, Richter utilises the chromatic contrast of two colours that punctuate the most notable and powerful of his abstract works: red and green. Sitting at opposite ends of the colour wheel, red and green were crucially theorised as ‘complementary colours’ during the Ninetheenth Century by scientists such as Michel Eugène Chevreul whose work came to have a significant effect on modern painting. Here Richter utilises the law of ‘simultaneous contrast’: an optical illusion in which one’s perception of a colour is altered by those immediately surrounding it. This effect becomes most intense when eliding complementary colours: the deep red and earthy greens; umber oranges and electric blues; and the light roses and mint greens that populate the present work.
Evocative of colour theories that Neo-Impressionists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac utilised to create vibrating painted surfaces, the continually varied tonality and intensely numerous variations of contrasting hues within each millimetre of the canvas create an intensely unstable perceptive field. Richter’s surrender to the laws of chance also allows for abrupt disruptions to otherwise flowing transitions of colour – in this case outbreaks of violent monochrome red and electric blue. Thus a new sense of layered depth is instilled by the inherent incongruity of the contrasting colours that are layered over one another. Like feedback interruptions to radio signals these momentary blips to the visual field conjure uniquely enigmatic presences which shatter confidence in our own perceptive capacities. We must momentarily surrender to the indecipherable yet evidently coherent internal logic of the painting’s own visual mechanisms.
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