signed, dated 1988 and numbered 680-2 on the reverse
"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, Verlag Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36
The vast and intensely beautiful chromatic expanse that comprises Abstraktes Bild stands as one of the most elegant and fully resolved exemplars of Gerhard Richter's epic corpus of Abstract Paintings. Executed in 1988, this work embodies the fully-formed mature aesthetic of the artist's abstract vision, and is very much a paragon of "The compositionally complex, heavily impastoed and richly polychromatic Abstract Paintings" described by Roald Nasgaard in the same year as this work was created (Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 106). Seeping layers of brilliantly charged hues are dramatically scattered across the canvas, alternatively coalescing and dissolving to defy conventional colour patterns. Executed in innumerable streaking strata of lustrous oil paint, a sublime symphony of dark and light blue-grey tracts is punctuated by vibrant accents of reds, yellows, blues and greens.
The sublimely subtle colouristic harmony and lyrical resonance broadcast an evocative atmosphere of density and chaos. The interplay of hues and the complex smattering of thick impasto both reveal and conceal colour at the same time: the viewer is invited to look both at and through the laminas of material. The viewer is invited to penetrate the canvas while being absorbed by its vast surface area, evoking the phenomenal wall power of large format Abstract Expressionist paintings of the New York School. The result of Richter's phenomenal technical aptitude, which has led to his reputation as one of the outstanding painters of our era, this work is testament both to his ceaseless technical explorations in the field of abstraction and to his unique painterly and intellectual sophistication.
Richter had seriously pursued abstract painting throughout the 1980s and this work stems from well over a decade of his investigation into various methodical and aesthetic possibilities. The artist's working practice has been described as remarkably efficient: he begins by placing a number of white primed canvases around the walls of his studio, eventually working on several of them simultaneously and reworking them until they are completely harmonized, which has been compared by Peter Sager as being "like a chess player simultaneously playing on several boards" (Peter Sager, 'Mit der Farbe denken', Zeitmagazin 49, 28th November 1986, p. 34). Tracts of colour are dragged across the canvas using a rubber squeegee, so that the various strains of malleable, semi-liquid pigment suspended in oil are fused together and smudged first into the canvas, and then layered on top of each other as the paint strata accumulate. The painting undergoes multiple variations in which each new accretion brings colour and textural juxtapositions until they are completed, as Richter himself declares, "there is no more that I can do to them, when they exceed me, or they have something that I can no longer keep up with" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 108). This extensive process facilitates multiple facets of creativity: Abstraktes Bild becomes truly the sum of Richter's wide-ranging innovation.
Furthermore, Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. 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). With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality.
In sum, Abstraktes Bild beautifully encapsulates Richter's theory that with abstraction "there is no order, everything is dissolved, more revolutionary, anarchistic" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 108). Abstraktes Bild is destined to have a unique identity whereby the total deconstruction of perception - dismantling themes of representation, illusion, communication - becomes a sublime chaos. As such it communes an emotional relationship with the viewer and becomes itself experience rather than object. With the present work Richter deconstructs the concept that abstraction demands logical framework, thereby advancing the pioneering achievements of Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian, and continuing the line of enquiry instituted by the Abstract Expressionists by delivering a visual experience of phenomenal psychological resonance. In the words of Nasgaard, "The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and "fictive models" for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience" (Roald Nasgaard, Op. Cit., p. 110).
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