"Abstract paintings are fictitious models becau they visualise a reality which we can neither see nor describe but which we may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality, the unknown, the un-graspable the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted it in terms of substitute images like heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can be neither seen nor understood because abstract painting illustrates with the greatest clarity, that is to say with all the means at the disposal of art, nothing" (G. Richter, 'Statement', in Documenta 7, vol. I, Kassel, 1982, pp. 84-85).
Rendered in a luxuriant palette, Abstraktes Bild is a striking example of one of Gerhard Richter's celebrated abstract paintings. Chromatically arresting, a wave of yellow and emerald paint glides across the canvas surface into a maelstrom of crimson reds and canary yellows. The sense of dynamism is palpable as the viewer can trace how Richter ranged across the surface at various moments in the painting's odyssey. Troubled by modern and abstract art's utopic claims, in Abstraktes Bild the artist sought to regain the conditions of genuine experience. For Richter, this meant denying his own subjectivity by avoiding a dominant perspective and any compositional hierarchy. relating the program for abstract paintings, Richter said: 'abstract paintings are fictitious models because they visualise a reality which we can neither see nor describe but which we may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality, the unknown, the un-graspable the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted it in terms of substitute images like heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can be neither seen nor understood because abstract painting illustrates with the greatest clarity, that is to say with all the means at the disposal of art, 'nothing (G. Richter, 'Statement' in Documenta 7, vol. I, Kassel 1982, pp. 84-5) Considered by the artist to be his first painting, Tisch (able, 1962, a monochrome painting of a table which Richter worked over with swirls of grey paint to cancel the original image, can be seen as a manifesto of addition and reduction. Almost coming in a full circle, in the early 1980s Richter returned to this sequential dialectic of construction and destruction in his abstract paintings such as Abstraktes Bild.
Operating without a photographic source, Richter's quasi self-generating abstraction attempts to distance the role of the artist, a condition heightened by the use of his signature squeegees. Using this tool in Abstraktes Bild, Richter mechanically pulled a curtain of lemon yellow paint over the canvas creating a buttery terrain that melts away as the eye is drawn deep into sapphire and charcoal ravines. Reflective of Richter's multifarious technique, elsewhere ruby red and chartreuse have been applied wet on wet whilst other areas of the painting's skin have been flayed creating striking fissions that streak through the outermost layer, revealing black and vermillion striated fossils.
Describing this method in interview Richter explained that a picture like this is painted in different layers, separated by intervals of time. The first layer mostly represents the it background, which has a photographic illusionistic look to though done without using a photograph. This first, smooth, soft-edged paint surface is like a finished picture; but after a while I decide that I understand it or have seen enough of it, and in the next stage of painting I partly destroy it, partly add to it; and so it goes on at intervals, till there is nothing more to do and the picture is finished. By then it is a something which I understand in the same way it confronts me, as both ncomprehensible and self-sufficient. An attempt to jump over my own shadow.. At that stage the whole thing looks very spontaneous. But in between there are usually long intervals of time, and those destroy a mood. It is a highly planned kind of spontaneity' (G. Richter, 1984, quoted in H. U. obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, London 1995, p. 112) Bursting with energy, Abstraktes Bild can be seen to reflect the excitement surrounding Richter's work at this time. The late 1980s was a period of intense market and international interest in Richter's work; in 1986 he had his first large- scale touring retrospective at Kunsthalle Dusseldorf that also travelled to Berlin, Bern and Vienna and in 1988 Richter had his first large-scale retrospective in Canada and America, opening at Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and touring to Chicago, Washington and San Fransisco. Highlighting Richter's singular artistic rank at this moment the leading German magazine Der Spiegel wrote: 'No one else has explored the potential of painting in an age of mass photography in as coolly engaged and intelligent a manner as he has, or has been as tough and as ready to experiment as he is' Hohmeyer, 'Einfach ein Bild', Der Spiegel, January 20, 1986, p. 160
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