’s Abstract Painting Essay, Research Paper
Gerhard Richter combines abstract and figurative elements in his paintings to express his own perception of reality. I. Michael Danoff, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, says of Richter’s paintings: “Ways of seeing are more certain than what is being seen.”
Richter organizes the formal elements space, line, colour, form, repetition and balance to fuse visual and invisible reality into a unified whole.
Born February 9, 1932 in Dresden, East Germany, Richter knew he wanted to become an artist since his mid-teens. In 1951, he was admitted to the Dresden Academy, where he developed his illusionistic painting skills by emulating Casper David Friederich (1774-1840), a leading German Romanic landscape painter. Richter became interested in Modernist painting, and soon realized the political climate in East Germany advocated only the style of Soviet Socialist Realism. In order to escape the political and artistic oppression, Richter moved to West Germany to continue his education at the D sseldorf Academy, a major center of the European avant-garde. Fluxus, the “name taken by an international art movement founded in 1962 to unite members of the extreme avant-garde in Europe and later in the U.S.A. … in many respects a revival of the spirit of Dada”+ influenced Richter. It was in the Fluxus spirit that Richter participated in the now famous performance called “Life with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism” in 1963. Eschewing both the conventional Soviet Socialist painting tradition and the contemporary Capitalist alternatives, Richter invented his own vision of reality an ambiguous mix of avant-garde and tradition that resists categorization.
Over thirty-five years of painting have resulted in an oeuvre that compiles a wide variety of styles. He began in 1962 with the figurative black-and-white Photo Paintings many of which were blurred with a dry brush, for example, Helga Matura, 1966. Richter’s work also includes the Colour Charts series (1966-74), and the post-minimalist Gray Paintings series (1967-74). His most recent works include still lifes, landscapes, cloud paintings, and the smooth abstract paintings, for example, Abstract Painting, 1977, which provide grounds for the heavily impastoed Free Abstract paintings of the 1980’s.
Richter’s Abstract Painting,, a 225 x 200 cm (88+ x 78+ in.) oil on canvas, is simultaneously figurative and abstract, blurring any distinction between the two styles.
Abstract Painting is a photographic painting whose subject matter is detail from one of Richter’s own small abstract paintings. Danoff writes that “The Smooth Abstract Paintings of 1977 are like enlargements of blurred microscopic photographs: abstract yet with definite qualities of figure, ground, and space.” Richter juxtaposes composed illusionistic space with non- representational hazy-edged abstract geometrical forms in order to confound our expectations of reality.
The diagonal and vertical lines seem frozen in the atmospheric space. The edges of the lines have been faded out with a dry brush and their hazy, static quality enhances the enigmatic mood of the painting. The horizontal column in the foreground of the painting and the vertical crevice that appears to recede in space towards the light that seems to emanate from the middle/left side of the background add to the illusion of atmospheric space. The lines blur upon close inspection thereby assuring that the canvas, and the dreamscape within, remain just out of the spectator’s grasp. The lines of the dark warm reddish-purple columns that slash through the top and bottom of the painting divide it into irregular slices of atmospheric space. One’s eye rests momentarily on the column closest to the picture plane before falling back into the deep space behind it.
Richter says, “Oil paint is such a thankful medium. One can do anything with it . . . and
therefore I have never been very interested in trying out other media.” The paint handling is very flat and is not scumbled in any area of the canvas the weave of the canvas is visible but the paint coverage is opaque throughout. The huge canvas gives the impression of a vast fictional landscape with atmospheric 3-dimensional space produced by the use of chiaroscuro, tonal gradations, and the hazy layering of colour. Colour is the most important element in the mysteriously inviting mood of the piece. Gradations of warm colours help to make this all-over painting a harmonious whole. Richter’s choice of colours include yellowed-pink, yellowed- white, reddish-purple, orange-red, yellowed tan and taupe, dark burgundy, medium warm brown and dark warm chocolate brown all dry-brushed onto the mossy-green and putty-green ground. It appears that the colour is just for colour’s sake but if the colour is true to the picture that it is painted from, it could be considered as describing the photograph.
The repetition of column shapes in Abstract Painting add to the visual rhythm of the piece and the repetition of column shapes throughout Richter’s abstract paintings unify the collection. The curvilinear lines of the orange-red form in the upper middle, as well as the rounding of the edges of the columns and horizon line, give the painting a kind of biomorphic quality even though it is obviously an abstract.
The painting is balanced by weight the left side of the canvas is optically balanced with the right. Because the vertical warm pinks and orange-reds on the left are closer to the picture plane, they are optically balanced with darker more centrally located orange-reds on the right. Even though the left side of the picture is generally darker, it is balanced by interest with right side. there are two columns jutting through the space and the additional bright white also lends its weight to the right side. Dividing the painting horizontally, the painting is also balanced by interest. the bottom larger column is balanced by the greater number of forms on the upper half. As enigmatic as the painter himself, the deliberately evasive Abstract Painting resists any one category or label. Richter combines elements from avant-garde and traditional painting styles to produce his own vision of reality a reality that embraces the abstract while utilizing the illusionistic space of realist representation.