Richter’s paintings are born out of an anxiety over Abstract Expressionism’s worship of the artist’s genius. “Nature,” he declared, “which is ourselves, is infinitely better, cleverer, richer than our short limited, narrow reason can ever conceive” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter, 1998, p. 13). Conscious of the narrow confines of reason, Richter submits himself to the element of chance in his creative process, letting nature run its course. The artist eschews compositional planning and approaches each blank canvas with an open mind as to the outcome. Richter further relinquishes the brush in favour for the squeegee which, with its uniform hard rubber surface, forms patterns and mixtures completely beyond the artist’s control. After running the squeegee over the initial application of paint, Richter repeatedly scrapes it over the colour iterations, forming and erasing new combinations until he is at last satisfied with the result.
For Richter, painting is a painstaking revelation of nature’s inherent paradoxes and contradictions. Despite attempting to eliminate his artistic agency in painting, his Abstrakte Bilder are instantly recognisable; and while the paintings he creates are undeniably abstract in composition, countless comparisons have been made to the dream-like landscapes of Claude Monet. The present work is both an embodiment of these contradictions and a crucial link between the abstract series and Richter’s previous series. Lacking a focal point, Abstraktes Bild is reminiscent of Richter’s overpainted photographs of the 1980s, where he intentionally smudged figures’ faces and details, so that everything appears equally important and unimportant. Richter also employed blurring in creating hazy landscape paintings in the 1970s, often viewed by scholars as postmodern re-interpretations of Caspar David Friedrich’s German Romanticism.
Abstraktes Bild sees Richter’s inseparable relationship to landscape unfold on a subconscious level. The waterfall of iridescent blues, greens, browns and white become pinewoods, cabins and snowy-drifts only through the human tendency to recognise and interpret patterns in everything they see. The work’s abstract forms, imbued with human imagination, conjure the likeness of an ever-shifting alpine topography. Like gazing at a vista through heavy blizzard, the silhouettes of pale peaks constantly come in and out of focus.
By shunning representation in Abstrake Bilder, Richter allows his images to make their own realities. Each painting, initially appearing no more than a splattering of colour, reflect our deep-seated connection to the natural environment. “They remind you of natural experiences,” the artist noted. “That’s what they get their effect from, the fact that they incessantly remind you of Nature, and so they’re almost naturalistic anyhow” (Ibid., p. 16).
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