Richter and the squeegee
Richter paints the most intricate paintings using fine tools, and at other times, paints with a squeegee. Tate Modern’s retrospective of Gerhard Richter, ‘Panorama’, aims to show the range of work he has been engaged with over the past 50 years as an artist.
Emma Drye (OCA tutor) has already blogged about this exhibition, but since it hits so many buttons for so many students, we’ve asked one of our students – Jan Batty – to review it too. Its on at Tate Modern till the 8th January so there is still time to see it if you haven’t already.
“On first walking through the exhibition you are confronted with a bewildering array of different genres, from the most abstract to photo-realist and places in between, sometimes in the same painting. There were colour grids alongside plain gray paintings, big multi-coloured abstracts with highly photo-realist monotone clouds and sea, paintings of tables and of war. There do, though, seem to be some clear themes to his interests and it seems as though he chooses the technique to best explore his ideas.
Looking closer it seems there is a well considered reason behind each piece of work. He’s dealing with big ideas – ones most often addressed by conceptual artists – like the nature of art, reality, perception, the significant and the ordinary, randomness. He’s commenting on these things, but in paint.
Some pieces respond to other artists’ work. Ema (Nude on a Staircase) 1966 directly references Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 1912, but also confronts that artist’s ‘end of painting’ proposal with a breathtaking demonstration of what painting can do. It is a spiritual, ghostly vision of his naked wife coming towards us down the stairs – photo-realist but blurry, soft and human. This blurring is something of a trademark. It occurs in his very large colourful abstracts as well as many of the photo-realist works. It made me think of movement in photography, but also of memory and the sense of time passing which is bound up in photos.
He has always used photos as reference. Some are chosen for their ordinariness and some record important historical events. By focusing on the everyday – a chair, a candle, a cloud – he draws attention to it and makes it an object of contemplation. His paintings based on newspaper photographs of the Baader Meinhof gang are undramatic, poignant and don’t glamorise. Similarly, ten years on, he has recorded an impression of 9/11 that doesn’t sentimentalise or glorify. It simply records a moment whilst somehow being compassionate.
Richter is clearly an artist who loves paint, developing his own techniques to produce the effect he wants (a squeegee for those large abstracts). And he is a committed painter which in these times is itself something to celebrate.
There’s an interesting film on the Tate Channel which is well worth a watch. It made me think more about the tradition of painting and how absolutely necessary it is to know where you stand, in context, and to refer to it – to have a conversation with other artists through paint.”