Distinguished by its kaleidoscopic rainbow of pigment, Abstraktes Bild’s visual power derives from the infinite ambiguity of its textural topography. Viewed from a variety of angles, different hues leap to the surface, as the fossil-like layers of impasto reveal alternating striations of color. A flickering lake of ultramarine dominates one side of the canvas, while fiery tendrils of vermillion pervade the work’s surface through the shadowy black upper stratum of paint. The effect is dazzling, as the ridges, peaks and crests of hue take on a kind of ethereal liquidity, creating a powerful sensation of depth and perspectival space. Paradoxically, the stratified excavation and resonant accumulation of color also imparts an eroded surface that possesses a fundamental solidity, the layering of paint serving to geologically record the process of its own creation. With Abstraktes Bild, Richter offers a study of paint’s infinite malleability, the harmonic interplay of hues producing an evocative atmosphere of depth and chaos.
To achieve this riotous melee of color, Richter relies upon the tool that has become his innovative artistic signature: the squeegee. He first lays down numerous thin coats of paint, then as it begins to dry, drags the rubber blade across the surface, disrupting the top layer to reveal a phantasmagoria of previous hues that merge and separate to form a complex interplay of color and depth. The pressure and speed of his application ultimately surrender to the unpredictability of chance, enabling him to relinquish a degree of control while enhancing the physical qualities of his medium. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings, most notably the Abstrakte Bilder, with their inherently natural look. As he has described, these paintings “allowed me to do what I had never let myself do: put something down at random. And then, of course, I realized that it never can be random. It was all a way of opening a door for me. If I don't know what's coming—that is, if I have no hard-and-fast image, as I have with a photographic original—then arbitrary choice and chance play an important part” (The artist quoted in Gerhard Richter: Text, London, 2009, p. 256). Indeed, the present work embodies the artist’s interrogations of order and chaos, its composition poised between the two in Richter’s signature style.
Marking the culmination of his liquescent explorations into the nature of painterly form, Abstraktes Bild reveals the full breadth of the artist’s idiosyncratic alchemy of abstraction. As an example of the series that has formed a conceptual keystone of his oeuvre for decades, the present work bears the legacy of Richter’s prolifically sustained philosophical inquiry into the role of paint. Throughout his career, Richter has questioned the reliability of painting and its function, beginning in a time when the medium itself had been completely eclipsed in favor of new and more innovative artistic techniques. Yet even today, Richter’s cerebral probing into the purpose and merits of painting remain relevant, challenging, and insightful. His mastery of the medium, exemplified by the present work, demonstrates his unrivalled ability to produce mysterious and atmospheric works that also question the very nature of painting in the modern age.
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