The Gerhard Richter Archives in Dresden present a selection of over-painted photographs signed by the painter from this eastern German city. These small formats embody Richter’s eternal questions about the porosity of the borders that separate illusion from reality.
Gerhard Richter never confined himself to a medium, just as he never assigned himself to a genre. He has always, within his protean work, played between forms and artistic trends. He was in turn a leader of romanticism and a master of abstraction; he is the same man behind sumptuous little oil seascapes and stunning pixel paintings. Gerhard Richter is both tradition and its rupture; to the questions that his art poses, he opposes their visions. And these works, mixing photography and painting, are the ultimate incarnation of this ambivalence.
The texture of photography
These photographs taken by Richter are snapshots of his daily life and his travels. Behind the layers of colors, portraits of loved ones, museums, aquatic scenes, rural and urban landscapes appear… In itself, photography in its essence, in this unique strength that it has in collecting trivial moments of life to keep the memory alive. These standard format shots of everything to everyone were not necessarily intended to become works in themselves. Gerhard Richter kept them in a drawer not really knowing what to do with them. He placed these small photos “between art and garbage which, in one way or another, seemed important to me and which it was a shame to throw away.” Quite simply.
The common thread of Richter’s work lies in this contained space between the thing and its representation, between the subject and the image, between appearance and meaning. After having used photography as a model for some of his iconic works of disturbing realism, Richter began at the end of the 80s to dress his own photographs with abstract brushstrokes to compensate, he would say, for the lack of reality of this art: “One day, I took small photos which I smeared with paint. That partly solved the problem, and it was actually good – better than anything I’ve ever said on the subject.”
When Gerhard Richter creates, what room does he leave to chance? It’s a question that we cannot deflect when we find ourselves in front of his large abstract canvases. Here, although on a smaller scale, it is the same energy, the same casual gesture which embraces the smooth surface of the paper. The colors form pictorial patterns that mix with the photographic patterns: blue mixes with the sky, purple with the roofs of the buildings, beige with the skin, red with the wheat fields, white with the reflections of the sun on the walls. These shapes guessed through the spread and scraped paint appear like reminiscences of the past, which come back to us blurred. The painting seems to embody emotions linked to memory when the image refers to a certain reality. Together, painting and photography manage to serve memory. But then, what is real? Reality or its representation? The 72 Overpainted Photographs presented are the meeting of two compartmentalized universes and yet so close and so powerful brought together. These works manage to disrupt the truth of a photograph.
Noémie de Bellaigue
Gerhard Richter. Übermalte Fotografien at the Gerhard Richter Archives until November 19, 2023.
Gerhard Richter Archiv