Gerhard Richter has dedicated a life’s worth of artistic intent to ‘paint like a camera’. Since his breakthrough during the early 1960s with the renowned series of spectacularly verisimilar yet blurred paintings of black and white photographs, Richter has ceaselessly sought new ways to extend the legitimacy and veracity of the painted image. Herein, the Abstrakte Bilder represent the very furthest point in Richter’s practice: the realization of an abstraction that echoes the automated immediacy of a photograph. By wielding a squeegee as the principle creative tool, Richter pioneered a dialogue with chance that weights the decisions of the painter and physics of exertion against the reactivity of materials. The ensuing results have imparted some of the most arresting and chromatically spectacular abstract compositions of the late Twentieth and early Twenty First Centuries.
Executed using quasi-mechanical scrapes and palimpsest-like layering of oil paint, the Abstrakte Bilder promulgate the possibility of exquisite lyrical painting with forensic detachment. The element of experimentation and chance is an absolute necessity to facilitate the artistic ideology of Richter’s abstracts. As the artist has himself explained, “I want to end up with a picture that I haven’t planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture…I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself.” (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 36) Thus, with its equal dependence on chance and precision, we witness a potent confluence of artistic forces evolving in the present work.
In addition to this merging of chance and precision that Gerhard Richter undertakes in each of his Abstrakte Bilder, Benjamin Buchloh, one of the most celebrated art historians of our time, has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content, so that any elicitation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence: "the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system." (Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, pp. 23-24)
Simultaneously revealing and concealing exquisite chromatic layers, Abstraktes Bild (686-2) bespeaks Richter’s mastery of the squeegee method on a gem-like and intimate scale. The distinctive technique results in this intricate visual phenomenon, enabling us to perceive the vibrant hues of red, blue and yellow as simultaneously blended together and independent of one another, beneath the horizontal striation and vibrato shuttering of cold grey pigment. The effect is halting in its beauty, depth, and texture.
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