Gerhard Richter’s Abstract Painting, 780-1 is one of his many abstract compositions which use his experimental blurring technique to create a work that investigates the boundaries between figuration and abstraction and which uses elements of photography in painting. In this article, Singulart explores Richter’s approach to painting and analyses the masterpiece Abstract Painting, 780-1, in order to gain a better understanding of one of today’s foremost contemporary painters.
Who is Gerhard Richter?
Gerhard Richter is a contemporary German artist, considered to be one of the most influential painters today due to his prolific and stylistically varied exploration of the medium which he often combines with elements of photography. Born in 1932 in Dresden during the rise of the Nazi regime, he grew up in Eastern Germany under Soviet rule where he trained as a muralist and created realistic paintings about socialist themes. His success allowed him the opportunity to travel and in 1959 he saw the Documenta II exhibition in Kassel, where he came across the works of Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana for the first time. These two artists in particular left a lasting impression on Richter and challenged his previous perceptions of art. He escaped to West Germany two months before the building of the Berlin Wall. Richter went on to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf alongside other celebrated artists such as Sigmar Polke.
It was during this time that he began mixing the mediums photography and painting, in order to interrogate the very nature of painting. In 1962 he painted what he considers to be his first mature artwork, Table, which engages with the conflict between photography, realism and abstraction, themes which continue to influence his work. This experimentation led to the introduction of abstraction to his painting, beginning with his textured grey monochromes. Throughout his career he has taught art and his work has sold for record prices at auction. Among his influences are Caspar David Friedrich, Roy Lichtenstein, Fluxus and Art Informel. Richter has stated that he has no style, as he thinks of style as a violent concept, however his photorealist and abstract paintings are undeniably recognizable. He has also maintained a highly experimental technical approach to his artistic production, which is best exemplified in his abstract works.
Abstract Painting, 780-1
Abstract Painting, 780-1 is, as the title indicates, one of Richter’s many abstract works. Far from his preliminary investigations into abstraction, which were grey textured monochromes, in Abstract Painting, 780-1, Richter has covered a 260 x 200 cm canvas in thick technicolor paint. Richter is known for employing nontraditional methods in his abstract paintings, and here he has used squeegees to pull the paint across the canvas and create varying textures and thicknesses of paint. Here, the paint has been scraped across the canvas multiple times, building up layers. Through the blur of yellow vertical bands, multicolored patches meld into each other, interweaving layers and textures and adding the illusion of depth to this mass of paint.
Blurring the boundaries of painting
This blurring is a technique that Richter applies in various forms to his figurative works as well as to certain photographic works, known as his Overpainted Photographs. Indeed Richter also uses the idea of blurring to undermine the binaries of contemporary art and its surrounding discussion. Rather than maintaining abstract and figurative painting as polar opposites, he blurs, confuses and mixes them together. He has explained that he “blur(s) to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant”.
Gerhard Richter’s experimental techniques
Richter’s very gestural approach to abstraction brings not only the medium but the technique of painting to the forefront of the composition, thus interrogating the inherent qualities of painting itself. Throughout his abstract compositions, such as Abstract Painting, 780-1, Richter reviews the history of painting, from romanticism and its preoccupation with the sublime the lyrical to the geometric concerns of early abstraction, with a certain irony. The depth implied by his textured, scraped surfaces hints at a link between figuration and abstraction. In other works Richter often uses the title to hint at a depth beyond the abstract surface however with Abstract Painting, 780-1 his direct focus remains in the conceptual realm of abstract painting. Without being reductive, Abstract Painting, 780-1 encompasses a concern at the heart of Richter’s radical investigation into painting, a hesitation between erasure and revelation and the power of painting to probe much deeper than the medium itself, into historical, social and philosophical issues.