Film: Gerhard Richter Painting (Kino Lorber 2011)
Writer/Director: Corinna Belz
?Many of the contradictions in Postmodern art come from the fact that we’re trying to be artists in a democratic society. This is because in a democracy, the ideal is compromise. In art, it isn’t.?
Who Cares if They Like it?Is It Right?
Watching Gerhard Richter paint is mesmerizing. He looks utterly absorbed, like an oracle delivering a visual prophecy. With no soundtrack, it really feels like we’re standing off to the side and watching Richter and his assistant puttering around the huge white studio, painting, moving paintings around, and carefully changing their minds about what stays and what gets painted over.
But the sense of clandestine surveillance is an illusion: ?Painting under observation is the worst thing there is,? Richter admits. ?I know I’m being watched, so I walk different. Painting is a secretive business anyway.?
Gerhard Richter Painting is a portrait of the artist as a rather nondescript, older gent whose humble demeanour contrasts sharply with that of the dark-suited poseurs trailing him in the galleries, arms crossed, fingers on their cheeks in a studied appearance of thoughtfulness.
They Shouldn’t Feel Comfortable
Richter is having an art show. He wants the gallery to be as stark as possible. ?A really cold atmosphere,? he proposes, ?so people will be happy to get out. They shouldn’t feel comfortable.?
In this barren environment the large abstracts are strangely beautiful. Like this film, the paintings seem at first to be about nothing, but become more resonant and evocative the longer you look.
Richter seems to particularly enjoy seeing beauty framed by coldness, void, or even damage. While referring to a photo of a nude sculpture on his desk, he points out that the nude is beautiful in itself but is rendered more beautiful by the fact that the arms and legs are missing. ?The mutation makes it more beautiful,? he remarks.
An Aesthetic Inspired by Trauma
In case You’re thinking Richter is a curmudgeonly egotist, he’s in fact a very polite and kindly man who exhibits a deep sense of connectedness to people and to society in spite of his refusal to bow to anything but his own artistic convictions.
He talks about having seen American documentary photos of the atrocities of World War II. As a young German he was scarred by these photos, which to some extent influenced his aesthetic and modus operandi. Wrestling with the horror of human cruelty, mortality, and powerlessness endowed him with a phenomenal drive to keep working and to be authentic and honest in his work.
In old film footage, a young Richter is pacing slowly across the roof of a city building surrounded by apartment complexes. He describes art as a moral act.
An act that proceeds from the artist’s conscience, or an act of social morality? the interviewer asks him. ?Both,? Richter replies.?It starts with your own morality, but You’re not alone.?
Range of Techniques
Richter’s work spans many genres and techniques, from a kind of magic hyperrealism to the abstract works of recent years. His earlier portraits are jarringly unique in their approach to creating likenesses, largely because of their unusual poses and Richter’s insightful renderings of facial expressions.
Richter’s more recent jumbo abstracts, on the other hand, must be judged on their composition and colour and little more. His tools include industrial paintbrushes, knives, and a huge squeegee that looks like a shelf. The latter is pulled slowly across the huge paintings to smear paint in patterns that are almost random.
True to the Deepest Conviction
These abstracts appear at first glance to be rusted metal walls with paint accidentally splattered across them, so simple and so grotesque as to almost insult the art viewer. Is this pure arrogance on the part of the artist, or a fearless resolve to be true to the deepest personal inspiration?
Music expresses thoughts and feelings very well without words, yet we expect a painting to render its message with recognizable images and symbols. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the Renaissance?all those rich details, all those clearly wrought symbols, pictures teeming with allusions?into thinking that art without images isn’t art at all.
Like the best abstract painters, Richter reminds me of a young Mi?kmaq girl who once carefully drew me a beautiful design. From habit I asked her what it was. Not wasting a second doubting herself or bowing to my expectations, she abruptly replied, ?It ain’t nuthin?. It’s just a picture.?
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.