Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thoughts on Gerhard Richter Painting

I saw the Gerhard Richter Painting movie the other day. It raised for me some issues. First let me say right off the bat that I think Richter is an important painter. I know some of my friends write him off as too cynical or too conceptual but I find having seen a lot of his paintings over the last 25 years that he is damn good and has to be reckoned with.

One thing I appreciated was how he talked about his process, albeit briefly with the director. How it, the paintings weren’t working and how creating is a private practice. I understand that. Once someone asked me if they could film me in my studio working and I turned them down. It isn’t like it is some sacred thing but it is a naked thing. Richter made a comment about how it was easier to expose oneself in the exhibition versus be raw in front of the camera.

The major thing I walked away from with a new appreciation was how he thinks about his making and the process. In many of these he starts out using old motifs or styles from his 70’s and 80’s abstractions and then slowly subsumes then under a density of the smear. It is the burying and destruction that is partially important but the process gives him the freedom to abandon motif into the act of making. In the process to discover something one could not plan for and the sudden accidental apparition beyond ones conscious control is an exciting moment, an intricate dance between artist and canvas.

He makes one comment early on in the film about how the paintings have their own demands. This I know all too well.

What it has made me struggle with is the concept of motif, my own motif’s that are belaboring me. I think that if I had the time and money it wouldn’t be so hard as I could work in the studio fulltime and not have to desperately seek income. I too, could make work after work with a freedom and abandon to explore and not worry about material costs or rent and where might that lead me? I try to do this anyway but too often the idea of making a “great painting” gets in the way.


  1. I know what you mean. I have Gerhard Richter's "Writings" now and am working my way through them. He is very thoughtful, very persuasive, occasionally very funny... I find myself liking him. And I certainly could not be filmed painting, either; if we have people in the house I don't paint! I find it a very solitary pursuit...

    And about working a day job and painting ... it goes better if you try not to make the "great painting" or allow yourself too much concern about an eternal, abiding "motif" -- I think, anyway. I think one of Richter's strengths is his ability to change styles, sizes, colors, brushes for squeegees. Agnes Martin said "The pretense of children is not a dream. They are playing and they know it.... Say to yourselves: I am going to work in order to see myself and free myself....When I see myself in the work I will know that THAT is the work I am supposed to do."

    1. Such subjectivity will only lead to tears at bedtime.