The pioneer of New European painting and master of the ‘blurring technique’, Gerhard Richter turns 82 today. We celebrate with a look back on his work, from portraiture to abstract, watercolour to oil painting and everything in between.
After an arduous childhood in both Poland and Germany during World War Two, Gerhard’s creativity was ignited at 15 years old when he studied painting at night school. What happened thereafter was non-stop; he received his trade school diploma, worked as a sign painter in a local factory and applied twice to Dresden School of Art, eventually graduating in 1956.
Perhaps Richter’s most well known technique is that of the blur. At a glance his photo paintings look like out of focus photographs but are in fact oil on canvas. The technique itself is equally as astounding. First Richter paints his subject in exquisite detail, in a photorealism style, this is called ‘the under painting’. Then he covers this with a thick layer of oil paint and coats either a thick brush or a squeegee in oil paint to drag across the canvas, smearing the colour as he goes. Richter de-clumps his paint by squeezing it through sheets of muslin to remove any lumps or bulks of pigment. There is a clear element of chance in Richter’s work that makes it all the more amazing. With great preparation and continued trial and error, Richter has established a genius method for creating motion within a still painting.
“The smudging makes the paintings a bit more complete. When they're not blurred, so many details seem wrong, and the whole thing is wrong too. Then smudging can help make the painting invincible, surreal, more enigmatic – that's how easy it is.”
Not only does Gerhard Richter paint in a way that eludes to photography, he also paints directly onto photographs too. Using surgical blades and palette knives, Richter applies left over paint onto the images, if he deems them unsuccessful then they are immediately destroyed. This technique has resulted in the creation of over 1000 photo-paintings.
“When I paint an abstract picture (the problem is very much the same in other cases), I neither know in advance what it is meant to look like nor, during the painting process, what I am aiming at and what to do about getting there. Painting is consequently an almost blind, desperate effort, like that of a person abandoned, helpless, in totally incomprehensible surroundings – like that of a person who possesses a given set of tools, materials and abilities and has the urgent desire to build something useful which is not allowed to be a house or a chair or anything else that has a name; who therefore hacks away in the vague hope that by working in a proper, professional way he will ultimately turn out something proper and meaningful.”
Richter first dabbled in watercolours on a holiday in Davos as "small watercolors are easy to do in a hotel room". He doesn’t use watercolour paper, but instead a lighter weight of cartridge in order to avoid the typical watercolour aesthetic. He puddles the colours until they mix into browns and greys which appear sinister, almost anti-watercolour. Later on Richter played with wax crayons, acrylics and washes of watercolour in a much brighter colour palette, this undeniably shows his warming to the medium itself.
Feeling inspired? Head to Gerhard Richter’s website for a full overview of all his works and stock up on your art supplies on our online store www.cassart.co.uk. Remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest on materials, artists and exhibitions.