Painting of the Day

16 Apr

Gerhard Richter, ‘Abstract Painting (809-3)’ 1994

Abstract Painting (809-3). by Gerhard Richter (born 1932). Oil on canvas, 1994. Currently in the collection of the Tate Museum, London.

Notes from

From the mid 1980s, Richter began to use a home-made squeegee to rub and scrape the paint that he had applied in large bands across his canvases. This spread the paint over the surface and integrated the various colours with each other. In the 1990s the artist began to run his squeegee up and down the canvas in an ordered fashion to produce vertical columns that take on the look of a wall of planks. ‘Abstraktes Bild (809-3)’ is typical of these paintings. One effect of the use of the squeegee was to create a blurring of one area of colour into another – similar to the blurring in Richter’s earlier photo-paintings – so that one has the feeling of looking at an out of focus image, that lies tantalisingly beyond decipherment.

In the early 1960s Richter was exposed to both American and British Pop art, which was just becoming known in Europe, and to the Fluxus movement. Richter consistently regarded himself simply as a painter. He began to paint enlarged copies of black-and-white photographs using only a range of greys.

The evident reliance on a ready-made source gave Richter’s paintings an apparent objectivity that he felt was lacking in abstract art of the period. The indistinctness of the images that emerged in the course of their transformation into thick layers of oil paint helped free them of traditional associations and meaning. Richter concentrated exclusively on the process of applying paint to the surface..

As early as 1966 he had made paintings based on colour charts. Although these paintings, like those based on photographs, were still dependent on an existing artefact, all that was left in them was the naked physical presence of colour as the essential material of all painting.

All vestiges of subject-matter seem to have been abandoned by Richter in the paintings that he began to produce in 1976. Even these supposedly wholly invented paintings retained a second-hand look, as if the brushstrokes had been copied from photographic enlargements.

The extreme variety of Richter’s work left him open to criticism, but his rejection of an artificially maintained consistency of style was a conscious conceptual act that allowed him to investigate freely the basic principles of painting.

My comments:

The mark-making of Richter is so similar to this one classmate of mine in my Foundation Drawing Class, so we brought up Richter in our class recently. I’d only vaguely heard of Richter before so I decided to investigate him a bit and feature him on the blog. Robert Storr, who is a Swarthmore alumnus and was the head of the Department of Painting and Drawing at the MoMA for 10 years, is quite the expert on Richter, curating an important exhibition about him for MoMA and writing a book on him as well. So this artist seems connected to Swarthmore in a number of interesting ways.

A remarkable thing about Richter that not all artists share is that his oeuvre has a wealth of diversity, perhaps as a consequence of a long artistic career that hasn’t yet ended. This painting comes after several decades of him being in practice, and his abstract paintings are the ones I like the most based on my cursory perusal of his paintings on the Tate’s website and on

I also find it interesting that Richter used squeegee brushes to paint this canvas, because coincidentally my art professor was suggesting to me that I could use the very same brush to paint a painting that I’m working on which will be very large.

But I particularly like this painting because it manages to make a garish yellow, a dull grey, and an icy blue–three colors that normally wouldn’t look all too beautiful together–actually appear quite in harmony and beautiful with each other. The effect of Richter’s method of applying paint to canvas also gives a really appealing, attracting textural quality to the painting. I wonder what the texture would look like in real life. If the canvas is actually really smooth, then Richter managed an amazing feat of creating a vivid illusion of texture. But even if the painting really does have the tactile texture that the brushwork implies, it’s still a fantastic accomplishment.

As I’ve said before on this blog, all kinds of painting, no matter how facile they may appear, are extremely difficult to produce. Even paintings like Richter’s in which there is no figure, just color and line, it is incredibly hard to produce that kind of mark and make the paint overlap in the way it does. It requires so much more patience and thought than one would have guessed, including me.

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara April 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    i have a scarf with these exact colors in it…..

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