With his perpetually unpredictable and futuristic impulse, with his works ranging from photograph-like paintings to his blurred, abstract pieces, Gerhard Richter, today 85 years old, is one of the most revolutionary and premium artists in the world. He is considered one of the most influential contemporary artists today.
Trained as a realist painter, he later developed a more abstract style of painting that captures movements that inspired him. Richter’s inspirations drive from Minimalism, Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, and Conceptualism and later, predominantly photography and rendered paintings that looked like a photograph which was out of focus, offering a very mysterious interpretation.
Let’s look at the 10 beautiful artworks by Gerhard Richter:
1. Mund (1963)
Mund or Mouth is one of the early paintings by Gerhard Richter, based on a cropped image of the famous French actress Brigitte Bardot, which isolated her mouth and lips over her face. At the time, Bardot was one of the most prominent seducing symbols from Europe, and her public image exemplified the interrelationship between the notions of lust and mass culture. Thus, by isolating Bardot’s famous sensual lips in this painting, Richter created an image that was both playful and muddled.
The painting also features traces of surrealism with blurring strokes of the lips and the mouth, which are detached from the face and the rest of the body. This was also one of the early photo paintings by Richter, whose main source was a photograph collected by the artist.
He collected photographs from newspapers, postcards and even sketched something. A few years later he started arranging different images on sheets, of which he obtained a total of over 800 sheets. Over time, the collection became an art project in its own right and was titled “Atlas”. The collection offers a crucial insight into Richter’s practice in art, and also reflects upon different phases in his life.
2. Stadtbild SA (219/1) (1969)
Stadtbild SA was a part of a foundational series of paintings named “Stadtbilder Cycle” by Richter, painted from 1968 to 1970. The idea here was to scrutinize the essence of images produced during the globalization era that blurs the boundary between reality and its procreation. This entire series was composed of aerial views of various urbanscapes, which represent the viewpoint of the bombers bombing the cities during the Second World War, a memory of destruction witnessed by Richter during his early life.
Richter outlines an urban fabric with powerful brush strokes, using tones of grey, in which angular structures stand out among the voids and gaps which represent the bombsites. This was a crucial painting that depicted the situation in German towns during the period of rebuilding the cities post the War.
3. 1024 Colours (1973)
1024 Colours is an enamel on canvas that Richter painted in 1973. Richter’s well-known colour chart paintings started taking a formal shape in the late 1960s. They were inspired by the colour charts of commercials found in hardware stores. Here, there is no specific interpretation of the differently coloured blocks.
Even though the painting represents a commercial colour chart, the colours used are not grouped in any specific order. Instead, the painting was designed through a pre-planned mathematical system, and the colours were distributed at random across the calculated grid. The white lines that represent the grid are equally spaced, and each colour occupies equal space within the painting.
Through this painting, Richter wanted to conceptualize the notion of utilizing colours in a meaningless manner. Richter’s colour chart paintings arose from his creative stalemate in the late 1960s. He believed he couldn’t make realistic paintings based on Photorealism, which dominated the body of his works from 1961 to 1966.
4. Abstract Painting (1976)
It was in 1976, when Richter used the term ‘Abstraktes Bild’ or ‘Abstract Painting’, for the first time to title his painting. This was one of his initial abstract paintings that portrayed the notion of Abstract Expressionism. Cool tones of purple, violet, and blue, create blurred, shallow atmospheric perspectives.
The composition usually consists of geometric shapes and linear forms that, at first glance, might appear as fractured icebergs emerging from the surface, only to settle down, as it were, into pure abstraction. Richter did not want to offer or dominate the abstract painting with a definitive explanation; he instead stated that he was ‘letting a thing come, rather than creating it.’ Having to observe a painting of this sort, a viewer begins to question whether what they perceive is a fact or fiction, real or artificial, like they are being trained to develop a sort of a visual philosophy.
5. Clouds (1982)
With Clouds, which was an oil on canvas, Richter started his journey with Abstract Expressionism. Clouds is currently being displayed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Clouds is a classic example that illustrates how Richter frequently skips between realist and abstract styles in numerous series of works as well as on a single canvas.
Likewise, the idea proposed by him here was that the viewer is having a ceaseless experience of looking through a window, observing the sky and the clouds that dominate over the blue; nevertheless, the bold and heavy strokes, smudges, layering of paints, eliminate the idea of optical illusion, resulting in an abstract piece that differed from the initial explanation given by the artist.
Thus, Richter is frequently fascinated by how a viewer’s desire to extract the “meaning” from a given work of art proves to be utterly in vain. Hence, through Clouds, he tries to suggest to the viewer that we should instead appreciate a simple experience of visual pleasure or the discovery of ‘beauty’ by way of studying abstract forms for their own sake.
6. Seascape (1998)
Romanticism inspired Richter for most of his landscape paintings. He was very fond of David Casper Friedrich, a German painter, more concentrated in painting appreciable seascapes. Like numerous of his other pieces, Seascape is based on several photographs collaged together into one single image.
In this series of Seascape, which was based on photographs, Richter blended various themes of painting and photography to create a representational complication: how and when does the eye sense the difference between a painted surface and a photograph? In this particular artwork, pigment is thinly applied, which results in the formation of a flat surface, like the surface of a photograph. Here, the visual becomes conceptual, as Richter tries to blur the boundaries between a painting and a photograph.
7. 11 Panes (2004)
Since 1967, Gerhard Richter has been using glass as a medium to explore painting. 4 Panes of Glass, was one of his initial works from 1967 that showed the usage of glass. Each pane was framed and fixed to stand so that one could look through them individually. It featured a strong cerebral content that was consistent with the contemporary Conceptual Art movement, but it also had a deadpan wit.
Because there are several panes, the reflection of the glass affects the transparency progressively. The distortions change as one goes closer and further away from the piece, and one sees oneself mirrored multiple times. The blurring effect is reminiscent of Richter’s photo paintings.
8. Cage (2006)
A cage is a group of six large, square abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter. All paintings have few things in common; like the thickly painted surface that is rough and textured in appearance. All of them are composed of horizontal and vertical bands, disrupted by haphazard, multi-directional scratches and dents that are engraved on the painting surface. In few paintings, the upper layers have been taken off and several layers of colours are left exposed. In each painting the composition and the shades vary but the elements repeat.
Cage (1) is predominantly shades of lime green, sub-ruled with a wide green vertical band across the canvas and abstract strokes that bring the entire painting together. Cage (2) is dominated by shades of grey, white, and lime green; accompanied by hints of red and charcoal grey. Cage (3) is filled with tints of white and grey, though it’s dominated mostly by scratches and dents. It is also defined by small patches of shades of green, grey, blue, and red.
Cage (4) is defined by multiple exposed layers of paint, while Cage (5) is governed by hues of grey, white, yellow, and red; complemented with a hint of black. Lastly, Cage (6) is most varied in its range of exposed layers of paints; but its overall composition is dominated by green, white, yellow, black, and blue.
9. Cologne Cathedral Window (2007)
The idea here was to replace the old, ancient window of the cathedral which was destroyed due to the Second World War, with a new one that responded to both traditional and modern needs. Gerhard Richter, to obtain the resultant, applied the principles of his field colour paintings to the stained glass to create an abstract composition made up of different combinations of coloured squares. Over a surface of 106 square meters, Richter created an abstract composition comprising 11,500 antique, hand-blown, squared glass pieces in 72 colours.
Inspired by his ‘4096 Colors’ painting from 1974, the arrangement of squared glass pieces was generated by a random number generator although the reflections and repetition of colours were predetermined to a certain extent. Richter also took into account the different shades from the colour palette of the cathedral to create a sense of harmony with the rest of the building.
10. Strip (2011)
Strip (921-6) is a digital print by Gerhard Richter. This large artwork is composed of thin horizontal strips in numerous colours, although murky-brown is what stands out in its entirety. Richter began his journey with Strip Paintings in 2010. They do not have any actual paint on the surface. These digital prints are laminated onto aluminum behind a thin layer of Perspex. Here, Richter tries to conclude the idea of painting in the digital era.
The mathematical calculations that determined the spacing and distribution of each coloured horizontal line were inspired by his series of Color Charts from 1973-1974. The Strips Paintings appear to lack physical texture entirely unlike his other paintings.
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