Gerhard Richter

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The discovery of the cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the infinite, thus I must pierce this canvas which is the basis of all arts.

Gerhard Richter (born 9 February 1932) is a prominent German artist who is considered by some critics to be one of the most important German artists of the post-World War II period.

Quotes of Gerhard Richter[edit]

  • The 'Grey Pictures' were done at a time when there were monochrome paintings everywhere. I painted them nonetheless.. ..Not Kelly, but Bob Ryman, w:Brice Marden, Alan Charlton, Yves Klein and many others.
    • In an interview with Benjamin H.D. Buchloch in 1986
    • Richter was asked about his 'Monochrome Grey Pictures and Abstract Pictures' and their connection with the artists Yves Klein and Ellsworth Kelly.

  • To talk about paintings is not only difficult but perhaps pointless, too. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing, what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.. .Painting is another form of thinking.
    • Quote from the documentary 'Gerhard Richter - Painting', Corrinna Belz, 2011

The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings (1962-1993)[edit]

Gerhard Richter, The daily practice of painting, Writings and Interviews, 1962-1993, ed. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Cambridge Mass: MIT press, London 1995
  • To defend painting: One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks this passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is pure idiocy.
    • p. 78

  • The first impulse towards painting, or toward art in general, stems from the need to communicate, the effort to fix one's own vision, to deal with appearances (which are alien and must be given names and meanings.) Without this, all work would be pointless and unjustified, like Art for Art's Sake.

  • The idea that art copies nature is a fatal misconception. Art has always operated against nature and for reason.

  • Every word, every line, every thought is prompted by the age we live in, with all its circumstances, its ties, its efforts, its past and present. It is impossible to act or think independently and arbitrarily. This is comforting in a way. To the individual, the collective experience of the age represents a bond – and also, in a sense, security; there will always be possibilities even in disaster.

  • It makes no sense to expect or claim to 'make the invisible visible', or the unknown known, or the unthinkable thinkable. We can draw conclusions about the invisible; we can postulate its existence with relative certainty. But all we can represent is an analogy, which stands for the invisible but is not it.

  • There is no excuse whatever for uncritically accepting what one takes over from others. For no thing is good or bad in itself, only as it relates to specific circumstances and to our own intentions. This fact means that there is nothing guaranteed or absolute about conventions; it gives us the daily responsibility of distinguishing good from bad.

  • 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. We are well aware that making sense and picturing are artificial, like illusion; but we can never give them up. For belief (thinking out and interpreting the present and the future) is our most important characteristic.

  • Art's means of representing a thing – style, technique and the object represented – are circumstances of art, just as the artist's individual qualities (way of life, abilities, environment and so on) are circumstances of art. Art can just as well be made in harmony with the circumstances of its making as in defiance of them. In itself art is neither visible nor definable: all that is visible and imitable is its circumstances, which are easily mistaken for the art itself.

  • As soon as artistic activity turns into an 'ism', it ceases to be artistic activity. To be alive is to engage in a daily struggle for form and for survival. (By way of analogy: social concern is a form and a method that is currently seen as appropriate and right. But where it elevates itself into Socialism, an order and a dogma, then it loses its best and truest qualities and may turn criminal.)

  • Painting has nothing to do with thinking, because in painting thinking is painting. Thinking is language – record-keeping – and has to take place before and after. Einstein did not think when he was calculating: he calculated – producing the next equation in reaction to the one that went before – just as in painting one form is a response to another and so on."

  • Art serves to establish community. It links us with others and with the things around us, in a shared vision and effort.

  • My concern is never art, but always what art can be used for.

  • Since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth. We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.

  • The sciences certainly have influenced the arts. To an Aztec, the sunset was an inexplicable event, which he could not cope with or even survive without the imagined aid of his gods. Obvious phenomena of this sort have since been explained. But the sheer unimagined vastness of the explicable has now made the inexplicable into such a monstrous thing that our heads spin, and the old images burst like bubbles. The thought of the totally inexplicable (as when we look at the starry sky), and the impossibility of reading any sense into this monstrous vastness, so affect us that we need ignorance to survive.

  • Strange though this may sound, not knowing where one is going – being lost, being a loser – reveals the greatest possible faith and optimism, as against collective security and collective significance. To believe, one must have lost God; to paint, one must have lost art.

'Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms' (2002)[edit]

'Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms', by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times Magazine, January 27, 2002

  • By nature I am a skeptic. I don't dare to think my paintings are great. I can't understand the arrogance of someone saying, 'I have created a big, important work.' I want to reject this pathetic behavior, this notion of the heroic artist. Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, their heroism derived from the climate of their time, but we do not have this climate.. .On the other hand, you do need feelings like they had to some extent. So I am afraid there must be a side of me close to those feelings. Those absurd feelings.

  • I have always been structured. What has changed is the proportions. Now it is eight hours of paperwork and one of painting. I go to the studio every day, but I don't paint every day. I love playing with my architectural models. I love making plans. I could spend my life arranging things. Weeks go by, and I don't paint until finally I can't stand it any longer. I get fed up. I almost don't want to talk about it, because I don't want to become self-conscious about it, but perhaps I create these little crises as a kind of a secret strategy to push myself. It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you. You have to find the idea.

  • My last wife [woman-artist Isa Genzken, he married in 1982 - they broke up in 1993] was very competitive, which was hard for both of us.

  • Idiots can do what I do. When I first started to do this [projecting photos on the canvas and painting them after having them traced in details with a piece of charcoal] in the 60's, people laughed. I clearly showed that I painted from photographs. It seemed so juvenile. The provocation was purely formal - that I was making paintings like photographs. Nobody asked about what was in the pictures. Nobody asked who my Aunt Marianne was. That didn't seem to be the point.
    • Richter's aunt had been murdered by the Nazis in the name of euthanasia, a crime for which his father-in-law from his first marriage, a Nazi doctor named Heinrich Eufinger, had been partially responsible. Richter painted a portrait of his aunt in 1965, based on an old photo. It was called 'Tante Marianne' / 9Aunt Marianne).

  • 'The abstracts are the opposite to work on. That process is more like walking, step by step, without an intention, until you discover where you are going. When I paint a landscape from a photograph or an image like this one, I can see the end point before I start, although in fact it always turns out slightly different than I imagined. What I have is not facility, because this really doesn't take skill. I have an eye. I couldn't make a drawing of you sitting here right now. I would love to have that ability, in the same way that I would love to play the piano. Virtuosity is a precondition for pianists, but in addition you have to be good. These are not the same thing.

  • I was surprised by photography, which we all use so massively every day. Suddenly, I saw it in a new way, as a picture that offered me a new view, free of all the conventional criteria I had always associated with art. It had no style, no composition, no judgment. It freed me from personal experience. For the first time, there was nothing to it: it was pure picture. That's why I wanted to have it, to show it - not use it as a means to painting, but use painting as a means to photography.

  • My works are not just rhetorical, except in the sense that all art is rhetorical. I believe in beauty.

  • They [Richter always works on a number of his abstract paintings at a the same time] feed off one another.. .At the beginning, I feel totally free, and it's fun, like being a child. The paintings can look good for a day or an hour. Over time, they change. In the end, you become like a chess player. It takes me longer than some people to recognize their quality, their situation - to realize when they are finished. Finally, one day I enter the room and say, 'Checkmate.' Then sometimes I need a break, a quiet job, like a landscape. But I always need to paint abstracts again. I need that pleasure.

  • I can't say what they [his abstract paintings] are about. I don't think they are expressionistic. I don't know why people say that. Why not say they are like Chinese paintings or like batik? People also talk about the quality of light in the paintings. 'Ah, the light!' Or 'Ah, the space!' It's phony reverence. It's ridiculous.

  • It is instinctive to search for something. Abstract art is inherently about the search - and about not finding anything. My gray monochromes have the same illusionistic implications as my landscapes. I want them to be seen as narratives - even if they are narratives of nothingness. Nothing is something. You might say they are like photographs of nothing.

  • This one is too elegant, too shiny, like jewelry. It seeks applause. This is clear to me, but difficult to explain, which is what makes abstraction so fascinating. In one sense, abstract art is absolutely nothing, stupid. In 100 years, maybe people will just think it's garbage. But somehow we see something in it; we have a sense of quality. [searching for an illustration of his point, Richter leafs through a catalog to find some of his 'gray monochromes']. I was doing these [monochromes] when I was getting divorced. When you feel totally empty, you do this - but then I saw that one picture was actually better than another. Both were miserable, but the difference was interesting. I loved this: that there must be something, some higher faculty, some progressive sensibility that we find in abstraction. But it is impossible to describe.

  • In '46, I had started to awaken to the world. At first, the Russians nationalized everything [in East-Germany / DDR]. Rich people had their property taken away, and the people got access to their libraries, which was wonderful for me. I read w:Hermann Hesse. Thomas Mann was a little too heavy for me. But Lombroso, Nietzsche. Materialists, I would call them – writers who said there was no god, no spirit, that freedom is an illusion. That affected me deeply.

  • But somewhere [during the 1950's, in East-Germany at the Art Academy] along the way we all began to notice that there was something wrong. We saw a few art magazines from the West and got a sense of another world. We began to talk about a third way between capitalism and Communism in art. I saw the work of graphic designers from Poland, the only ones [in communist area] I came across who seemed to be doing something for society but in a style that was more modern.

  • I was called a formalist, and in East Germany that meant you could be denied a chance to exhibit. So I knew I had to leave [to West-Germany], not because I was worried about the controversy but because I knew the controversy was about a bad picture. It wasn't good enough to be controversial. I was getting all the wrong reactions. Friends said the work was wonderful, and the attacks made it seem more important than it was. I had started to earn money with the murals. I earned enough to get a car. That was a big deal. So it was not easy to give up. But I knew I had to leave.

  • Lueg and Palermo saw what was good, what was bad, in what I was painting. That became the basis of our relationship, that we shared an idea, a sensibility. With w:Sigmar Polke, it was different. Our relationship was based on being outrageous. I have difficulties with his work. He [Polke] refuses all values and criteria, and for that reason I could never talk to him seriously. He refuses to accept any borders, any limits.

  • I was already almost 30, and by then everyone was talking about the Americans. Picasso was irrelevant. He was history. I found myself in this deep pool, and there were all these figures swimming around, like Rauschenberg and Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein|Lichtenstein]]. I wanted to go where they were. Seeing Pollock and w:Fontana in Kassel had given me a sense of what it meant to be a modern artist and take risks, but it was a distant admiration because they were a different generation. This was my generation [on the art academy in Düsseldorf].

  • So I started to paint like crazy, from figurative to abstract. Then after a year, I put it all on a bonfire in the courtyard of the academy. I suppose there was some ritual involved, but I didn't tell anyone before I did it, so it wasn't public, and I felt the work had to be burned because people were already taking things and paintings were starting to circulate. I had to prevent that because I realized it was time to start from scratch. Photographs were the way forward. I'm shocked now that the story seems clear, because it didn't seem clear at the time.

  • I was like a gravedigger while I painted these corpses [of the dead Baader-Meinhoff members]. It was just work. If I felt one of them looked too theatrical, I painted over it.. .I was afraid more of the reaction on the left than the right. It was still very dangerous to deal with this subject in Germany. There was fear that the museum where I showed them might be bombed. All my friends were on the left, but I was not. They said: 'Someone with the right mentality could do this, but not Richter - he is too bourgeois. He steals Baader-Meinhof away from us.' To me, they were part of the problem. I was standing outside watching how people, on both sides [left / right], ignored the truth because of their beliefs, beliefs that made them crazy. That was the point of the pictures.
    • In 1988, Richter painted a series of 15 works titled 'October 18, 1977.' It shocked Germany, especially left. The series was based on photographs of the anti-capitalist Baader-Meinhof group, which called itself the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Fraction) and were in prison and died in 1977.

  • I suppose they also had to do with my father, the Nazis, being skeptical of all systems, all manias. In the 70's, political positions were so clearly split in Germany - the country was so divided over the Baader-Meinhof group - and I was annoyed by both sides. In terms of what I expressed in the paintings, that seemed my only choice, not because I wanted to be ambiguous but because I myself don't know how to answer these difficult questions. That was what I was conveying.

  • I can bear this - that I am not the young wild guy [as he was in the 1970's]. I hope that the lust to work doesn't leave me. That would be sad. I am glad to get honors and high prices. But artists are valued today in terms of money, auctions. I wish society would need art more, but it doesn't. So I feel very lonely in this culture.

'Doubt and belief in painting' (2003)[edit]

Gerhard Richter, Doubt and belief in painting, ed. Robert Storr, MOMA, New York, 2003,
  • I was enormously impressed by Jackson Pollock and w:Lucio Fontana.. ..the sheer brazenness of it! That really fascinated me and impressed me. I might almost say that those paintings were the real reason I left the GDR [German Democratic Republic]. I realized that something was wrong with my whole way of thinking.. .I lived my life with a group of people who laid claim to a moral aspiration, who wanted to bridge a gap.. .And so the way we thought, and what we wanted for our own art, was all about compromise.
    • p. 37

  • Dada is a farce, a legend, a state of myth. A badly behaved myth whose subterranean survival and capricious manifestation upset everyone.. .The aesthetic of absolute negativity has been changed into methodical doubt, thanks to which it will finally be able to incarnate new signs.. .After the NO and the ZERO, there is a third position for the myth; the anti-art gesture of Marcel Duchamp has been charged with positive energy. The Dada spirit identifies itself with a method of appropriation of exterior reality of the modern world.. .The ready-made is no longer the height of negativity or of polemic, but the basis element of a new expressive repertoire. Such is the New Realism: a direct means for getting one's feet back on the ground but at 40 degree above Dada zero.
    • p. 41, note 30

  • I painted [circa 1960-62] through the whole history of art toward abstraction. I painted like crazy [and] I had some success with all that, or gained some respect. But than I felt it wasn't it, and so I burned the crap in some sort of action in the courtyard. And then I began. It was wonderful to make something and then destroy it. It was doing something and I felt very free.
    • p. 42, note 34

  • It was no accident that I found my way to Götz at the time [c. 1960-62]. This 'Informal' element runs through every picture I've painted, whether it's a landscape, or a family painted from a photograph, or the Colour Charts or a Grey picture. And so now it is a pursuit of the same objectives by other means.. .As I now see it, all my paintings are 'Informal'.. ..except for the landscapes, perhaps.. .The 'Informal' is the opposite of the constructional quality of classicism – the age of kings, of clearly formed hierarchies.
    • p. 42, note 45 : quote on his period of Informal art

  • My first photo Picture? I was doing large pictures in gloss enamel.. .One day a photograph of Brigit Bardot fell into my hands, and I painted it into one of these pictures in shades of grey. I had had enough of bloody painting, and painting from a photograph seemed to me the most moronic.. ..thing that everyone could do.
    • p. 43, note 36 : quote on his start with photography

  • He [Richter's art-mate, the German painter w:Sigmar Polke ] was very different, he was not cool.. .He had irony. He was very funny. The things we did together [around 1963 – 1970] were a kind of craziness.. .We thought everything was so stupid and we refused to participate. That was the basis of our understanding.. ..he was able to paint those little dots in his raster paintings by hand with such a patience while he was living with his two children and his wife in a small subsidized apartment.
    • pp. 45-46, note 43

  • Contact with like-minded painters, a group means a great deal to me: nothing comes in isolation. We have worked out our ideas largely by talking them through.. .One depends on one's surroundings. And so the exchange with other artists – and especially the collaboration with Lueg and Polke – matters a lot to me.
    • p. 47

  • Shocking, absolutely shocking – they [the German w:Fluxus artists] pissed in the tub, snag the German national anthem, covered the audience with paper, poured laundry detergent into the piano, attached microphones to fountain pens.. was all very cynical and destructive; it was a signal for us and we (the German artists Lueg and Polke and Gerhard Richter himself] became [also] cynical and cocky.
    • p. 47

  • I did not come here [out of communist German Democratic Republic, to West-Germany] to get away from 'materialism'; here [in West –Germany] its dominance is far more total and more mindless. I came to get away from the criminal 'idealism' of the Socialists (quote circa 1962).
    • pp. 49-50, note 57

  • The photograph reproduces objects in a different way from the painted picture, because the camera does not apprehend objects: it sees them. In 'free-hand drawing' the object is apprehended in all it parts.. .By tracing the outlines with the aid of a projector you can bypass and elaborate this process of apprehension. You no longer apprehend but see and make (without design) what you have not apprehended. And when you don't know what you are making, you don't know, either, what to alter or distort.
    • p. 51, note 60

  • I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings. (Because style is violence, and I am not violent).
    • p. 51, note 63

  • I would rather paint the victims than the killers.. .When Warhol painted the killers, I painted the victims. The subjects were of poor people, banal poor dogs.
    • p. 56, note 79
    • comment on his painting 'Eight student nurses', compared with Warhol's art-work 'Thirteen most wanted man', in 1964

  • I pursue no objectives, no systems, no tendency; I have no program, no style, no direction. I have no time for specialized concerns, working themes, or variations that lead to mastery. I steer clear of definitions. I don't know what I want. I am inconsistent, non-committal, passive; I like the indefinite, the boundless; I like continual uncertainty.
    • p. 60, note 92

  • Do you know what was great? Finding out that a stupid, ridiculous thing like copying a postcard could lead to a picture. And then the freedom to paint whatever you felt like. Stags, aircraft, kings, secretaries. Not having to invent anything anymore, forgetting everything you meant by painting – color, composition, space – and all of the things you previously knew and thought. Suddenly none of this was a prior necessity for art.
    • pp. 60-61, note 94

  • It [grey color] makes no statement whatever.. .It has the capacity that no other color has, to make 'nothing' visible. To me grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, non-commitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape (note 99).. ..but, grey like formlessness and the rest, can be real only as an idea.. ..The painting is then a mixture of grey as a fiction and grey as a visible, designated area of color.
    • p. 62, note 99-100
    • Richter's comment on working in w:grisaille.

  • Perhaps the Doors, Curtains, Surface Pictures, Panes of Glass [like in his work '4 Panes of Glass', 1967], etc. are metaphors of despair, prompted by the dilemma that our sense of sight causes us to apprehend things, but at the same time restricts and partly precludes our apprehension of reality.
    • p. 86, note 12

  • I don't mistrust reality, of which I know next to nothing. I mistrust the picture of reality conveyed to us by our senses, which is imperfect and circumscribed. Our eyes have evolved for survival purposes. The fact that they can also see the stars is pure accident.
    • p. 87, note 13
    • Richter is questioning here the 'picture of reality'

  • All that interests me is the grey areas, the passages and the tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings. If I had any way of abandoning the object as the bearer of this structure, I would immediately start painting abstracts.
    • p. 93, note 24

  • It was the ultimate possible statement of powerlessness and desperation [Richter is referring to w:John Cage's famous 'Lecture on Nothing']. Nothing, absolutely nothing left, no figures, no color, nothing. Then you realize after you've painted three of them that one's better than the others and you ask yourself why is that. When I see eight pictures together I no longer feel that they're sad, or if so, they're sad in a pleasant way.
    • p. 95, note 28

  • His w:Blinky Palermo constructive pictures have remained in my memory because they particularly appeal to me, because I can't produce such a thing. I always found it very good how he made it and that he made it – this astonished me. There was an aesthetic quality which I loved and which I couldn't produce, but I was happy that such a thing existed in the world. In comparison, my own things seemed to me somewhat destructive, without this beautiful clarity.
    • p. 96, note 30

  • We [Richter and w:Blinky Palermo ] could really just speak about painting. The main thing was about the surface of color or the proportion of color. It was impossible for me to talk to w:Sigmar Polke about the opacity of color. With Palermo, yes. We supported each other, we comforted each other a little bit. We thought this really could not be true that everything was supposed to be over ['painting' as an expression of art, in the 1970's). Art had to be relevant [in the 1970's], and our art was not relevant.
    • pp. 96-97

  • I only identified with (Rothko's seriousness, which was absolutely to be admired. At that time, in the 1970's Barnett Newman, with his non-hierarchical structures, his non-relational Color Field painting, seemed more interesting because his work was less pretty.
    • pp. 96, note 31

  • Simply because I liked it so much I saw it in Venice and thought: I'd like to have that for myself. To start with I only meant to make a copy, so that I could have a beautiful painting at home and with it a piece of that period, all that potential beauty and sublimity.. .Then my copy went wrong, and the pictures that finally emerged went to show that it just can't be done any more, not even by way of a copy. All I could do was to break the whole thing down and show that it's no longer possible [Richter's quote refers to his 'Annunciation after Titian', he made in 1973].
    • p. 104, note 52

  • A painting by Caspar David Friedrich is not a thing of the past. What is past is only the set of circumstances that allowed it to be painted.. is therefore quite possible to paint like Caspar David Friedrich today.
    • p. 106, note 58

  • I believe that art has a kind of Rightness, as in music, when we hear whether or not a note is false. And that's why classical paintings, which are right in their own terms, are so necessary for me. In addition to that there's nature, which also has this rightness.
    • p. 106, note 59

  • I even went all the way to Greenland, because C. D. Friedrich painted that beautiful picture of The Wreck of the 'Hope'. I took hundreds of photos up there and barely one picture [Richter's quote refers to his artwork 'Iceberg in Fog', 1982] came out of it.
    • p. 107, note 60

  • Of course, my landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all 'untruthful'.. .By 'untruthful' I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature – Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves.
    • p. 108, note 61

  • What I lack is the spiritual basis which under girded Romantic painting. We have lost the feeling of God's omnipresence in Nature. For us, everything is empty. Yet, these paintings [of a.o. Caspar David Friedrich ] are still there. They still speak to us. We continue to love them, to use them, to have need of them.
    • p. 109, note 62

  • Their permanent presence [of the old traditional paintings out of the past] compels us to produce something different, which is neither better nor worse, but which has to be different because we painted the Isenheim Alter [of w:Grünewald, 14th century] yesterday.. ..the better we know tradition – i.e., ourselves and the more responsibly we deal with it, the better things we will make similar, and the better things we will make different.
    • p. 107, note 60

Quotes about Gerhard Richter[edit]

  • Actually, I was doing them when I was still married to Gerhard Richter [till 1993], and it was somehow in relation to what he was doing, you know, these kind of side-to-side gestural abstracts – done like this [gestures as if pulling a squeegee over a surface from one side to the other] like paintings of the 1950's. Mine were called 'Basic Research', they were rubbings of oil paint on canvas – frottages of the floor of my studio. I did quite a few of these. [Gerhard] Richter put one up in his studio for some time.. .But he found it too hard and then took it out after a while.
    • Isa Genzken (2009) in: 'Out to Lunch with Isa Genzken', interview by Simon Denny, visiting Isa Genzken's show 'Wind', 2009, Courtesy: Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

  • * Yes, throughout our marriage [1982 - 1993, with Gerhard Richter], we influenced each other mutually. We didn't have a student-teacher kind of relationship.
    • Isa Genzken (2014) in: 'Isa Genzken, the artist who doesn't do interviews', interview by Emily Wasik, 15 May 2014

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