Through the phenomenological exploration of the painted medium, Gerhard Richter’s Untitled (19.3.86) distills the artist’s seminal abstract practice and serves as a prime example of the works within his iconic corpus of abstract paintings. Starting on the 16th of March in 1986, over the course of six consecutive days, Richter completed a suite of six works on paper, each uniquely titled by the day of its composition. Of the works from this suit, Untitled (19.3.86) is markedly denser in composition and arguably exhibits the most painterly sensitivities that possess Richter’s abstract audience. The vibrating veils of stuttering paint in the present work demonstrates a spectacular force and seductive painterly sensibility that is visually aligned to a celestial evocation. The perfection in the color balance and dynamic gesture pertains to the creative and stylistic breakthrough that Richter achieved in this highly significant year. Within his wider body of work, Richter’s abstract works on paper are markedly rare. Above all other mediums, however, they reveal his most radical and ingenious moments of experimentation, stemming from investigative urges at times of profound creativity. Uniquely celebrating the sense of freedom offered by the medium in the areas of the raw paper, the present work gives unparalleled insight into the working process and aesthetic volition of the artist at the most crucial point of his abstract trajectory.
Marked by the exploration of compositional and chromatic possibilities of the painted medium, abstraction has been a conceptual keystone in Richter’s oeuvre since the late 1960s. The enduringly iconic abstract works polarized with the series of quasi-illusionistic photo-realist paintings that Richter explored in the 1970s. Based on photographs, these works celebrate the touch of the artist’s hand and depict thickly applied oil paint with delicately painted brushstrokes. During the 1980s, Richter became increasingly prolific in his abstract practice, initially indulging in the delineation of free-floating abstract shapes in the first half of the decade. The year of 1986 signified a turning point as the artist embarked upon an intense period of experimentation, after which he relinquished planned compositional elements in favor of the indeterminate scrape of the rubber squeegee. There is arguably no other place that this impassioned moment of investigation is made more visible than in this series of works on paper. Executed at the cusp of the artist’s full submission to the rubber squeegee as the tool that would dominate his abstract paintings over the following decades, Untitled (19.3.86) deploys an exuberance of color and retains evidence of the hand-applied brushwork, while calculated execution indicates a sense of gestural abandon. Harmoniously blending brush and squeegee with a sense of unparalleled dynamic veracity, Untitled (19.3.86) reveals the full breadth of the artist’s idiosyncratic painterly alchemy.
By redefining the compositional order, Richter’s work evokes a mesmerizing polyphony of color, texture, and perspective. In Untitled (19.3.86), the capacity of painting is presented as a dichotomy between the squeegee and the brush: a trajectory that would come to monumental fruition in his paintings on canvas of the following years. This combination of a controlled, preconceived process and the unexpected effects of such a process proves an essential aspect of Richter's practice—here Untitled (19.3.86) expertly reflects the allure of chance.
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