“Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for god.” – Gerhard Richter.

Born in a middle-class family in Dresden on 9th February 1932, Gerhard Richter described his early life as simple, orderly, and structured. His family later moved to Richenau- a small town in Poland (then Germany). Gerhard’s father was forced into the German forces and was a victim of war. He was a war prisoner from the late 1930s till the war. The Richter family had experienced the deaths of many close ones during this war. Uncle Rudy and Aunt Marianne were among the dead relatives who made it into Richter’s paintings. The family relocated to the Czech border after the war, where they were reunited with Horst, Gerhard’s father.

Life of an Artist: Gerhard Richter - Sheet1
The Artist with his art_©Christian Marquardt/ Getty Images

Stepping Into Art And Beyond

“I have no motif, only motivation. I believe that motivation is the real thing, the natural thing and that the motif is old-fashioned, even reactionary.”


Life of an Artist: Gerhard Richter - Sheet2
Four Paintings from the Forest Series_©Charlie Rubin for The New York Times

Gerhard’s paintings have both a realistic and an abstract approach and are some of the most expensive pieces among living artists in the world. Gerhard started to draw regularly at the age of 15. He enrolled in a trade school in Zittau during this time, where he learned typing, stenography, and bookkeeping, this is where he came across a local mural artist and teacher Hans Lillig. Richter, then influenced by his company, took night school to learn painting. He worked as an apprentice sign painter and set painter for municipal theatre in Zittau for two years before pursuing arts from Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951. Richter had to apply twice in 1950 and 1951 before his application got approved at the university. He happened to come to study under the shadow of German art critic and historian Will Grohmann. His mural- The worker’s struggle for the Arbeiterkampf, was among his early renowned works.

In 1961, Richter decided to elope East Germany right before the construction of the Berlin Wall, after which he continued his studies at Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf. For the next 15 years, he continued his journey as a professor at Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf itself. During the 1960s, Gehrard’s work was mainly focused on the intersection of paintings and photography where florid canvases collocating paintings and photographs made the limelight. During this time he explored tracing the paintings from photographs and using color palettes drawn from the photographs to express these paintings. He started a trend of blurring paintings by using a squeegee during this time. Landscapes & Seascapes were made into most of his artwork followed by personal snapshots.

Style of Work

“Illusion- or rather appearance, semblance- is the theme of my life. All that is, seems, and is visible to us because we perceive it by the reflected light of semblance. Nothing else is visible.”

Life of an Artist: Gerhard Richter - Sheet3
A Stained Glass Window by Richter in Berlin, Zehlendorf_©gerhardrichter.com

Most of Gehrard’s works are on a gigantic scale, to be precise, his works included stained glass windows and panels. Such works are placed at The Art Institute of Chicago, The Serpentine Galleries, The Museum Barberini, The Tate Modern, The Museum of Modern Arts, etc. Gerhard’s early life has had a huge impact on his ideology being driven towards skepticism. When in doubt he asks himself the hoary question, ‘What can I know about the world?’ and he ceases at the conclusion, ‘Only what my senses tell me. But that doesn’t mean I know anything about the real world, about objects in themselves.’

Life of an Artist: Gerhard Richter - Sheet4
Installation by Gerhard Richter_©Ahner

In 1963, Richter took part in an art exhibition namely ‘Living with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism’, where artists performed as living sculptures, television footage, and a homemade effigy of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. After this performance, the three performers, including Richter, made it into Soviet Union’s Socialist Realism. The 1970s introduced the world with the abstract approach of Richter’s artworks. In 1971 & 1972, 48 portraits among his works were black and white. These portraits consisted of famous men during the era- scientists, composers, and writers. The 1980s was a time of still-life paintings for the artist. Richter has more than 70 books composed and published. Similarly, periodicals, monographs, catalogs, articles, and essays by the artist have captured a worldwide audience. 

Although Richter’s style of work is very definite and provoking, an equivocation in his work is constant and pensive on so many levels. Richter’s abstract forms of work are often described as staggering and of free will, as though they might come to life on their own. Richter left a sublime inspiration for many young aspiring artists and philosophers with his life, philosophy, and works and is continuing to do so in his life.

“I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings. Because style is violent, and I am not violent.”


Pranjali is a fresher architect & a keen explorer. She finds tranquility in nature, traveling, reading, writing & architecture, altogether & discretely. She is fascinated by contemporary vernacular & sustainable style of architecture & hopes to promote it through her writing someday.

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