The Dresden-born artist Gerhard Richter is undeniably one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st Century. He is particularly famous for his overpainted photographs, in which he uses the photograph as canvas. Yet he has also shown himself fluent in a variety of mediums including watercolours and oils. Further still he has produced the painstaking lifelong work ‘Atlas,’ a collection of historical photographs which link in with some of the themes of his other works, and call into question how we interpret art, history and even reality itself.
There are many who think he is the greatest living artist.
Yet despite all of this, Richter is still plagued by doubt. Doubts about the nature and meaning of art, and of his own achievements. He seems to be forever criticising and interrogating art, believing it to be hugely relevant and irrelevant, or perhaps neither of the two. He has hung on to an honest scepticism and lack of resolution with an almost moral fortitude.
Richter looks at his subjects with an appraising and ambivalent eye which captures a beautiful sense of uncertainty. This is seen perhaps most clearly in his painting ‘September,’ a small blurred picture which shows a plane flying towards the World Trade Centre. It was created by obscuring a media image from the time. An appalling act of violence is somehow presented as unclear, suggesting the changing nature of interpretations and memories of that awful day.
Even when he paints himself he illustrates uncertainty. His painting ‘Self Portrait,’ (shown above) is a blurred representation which uses dry brushstrokes to produce a hazy and mysterious effect. It is quite unsettling and makes dubious that most important of concepts – the self.
It seems unlikely that one of our greatest living artist is likely to create much clarity at 88. Yet his work captures so much of the blurring of lines and ideals that he has lived through. It is timeless and constantly open to interpretation, like all great art should be.
You can buy Gerhard Richter prints inexpensively here:
Or you can have a look at a signed rare print of Richter’s here:
For a more modern nod to overpainted photographs you could have a look at emerging female Irish artist Orla Gilkeson.
Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God.