Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2003
Richter’s extraordinary ability to imbue his works with specific mood and distinct character is born from his unusual painterly background. He began his career as an abstract painter, making canvases of high-key saturated colour compositions throughout the 1990s. Indeed, it was only in 2002 – the year of the creation of the present work – that he turned to figuration in earnest. Thus, his early proclivity for colour field painting is still manifest in the execution of Jeans. The interior of each figure is filled with swirling clouds of blooming colour with individual patches glowing bright and hot. The dogs are translucent scarlet, with bright eyes and mouths, and the overall effect recalls night vision or thermal imaging cameras; an association that adds much to the pseudo-military mood. That Richter should choose to focus so much of his energy on matters related to current affairs and contemporary political events reminds us of his history with the punk scene. After he was expelled from school aged seventeen, he moved to Berlin and became deeply ingrained within the city’s leftist Punk movement. He was yet to study painting and wouldn’t do so until he was almost 30, but he quickly became the local music scene’s go-to graphic artist, designing flyers, t-shirts, and album covers for local Punk bands. The suggestion that the aesthetic of the 1980s German Punk movement had a direct impact on Richter’s painting work of the 2000s is probably a stretch too far, however, the attitude of the movement, based in confronting the perceived bigotry and conformity of the establishment, certainly had an impact on his psychological outlook and is manifest in his most important works, much like that of his American contemporary Christopher Wool.
Richter has relied on his immediate forebears of German painting for influence, as well as a handful of figures from art history. He only began training in painting in his late twenties, when he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg. He was taught by Werner Buttner, one of Martin Kippenberger’s early collaborators, whose crude yet expressive approach to figuration made a formative impact. Buttner in turn arranged for Richter to work as an assistant to Albert Oehlen in the early 1990s. In Oehlen, Richter found a teacher with an unparalleled technical mastery of paint and a shrewd conceptual brain; the manner in which Oehlen unites abstract compositions of explosive colour with images gleaned from advertising and popular culture is directly comparable to the way that Richter unites his distinct painterly style with images taken from the news media. Art historical influences are also important in Richter’s work, most notably Edvard Munch who not only provided a template for Richter’s fluid modulating style, but also provided a useful precedent for the nightmarish mood that pervades his work.
Jeans perfectly encapsulates the dramatic power that Richter managed to achieve in figurative painting in the months and years immediately following his transition from abstraction. It is a dramatic tableau of impressive size and devastating impact, fusing idiosyncratic palettes of super-saturated colours with a brooding composition of imposing figures.
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