Gerhard Richter is a German painter and what he does is paint, but not in only one style. In this 2011 documentary by Corinna Belz, “Gerhard Richter Painting,” we follow this very private man around in his studio as he paints and prepares for exhibitions. The movie opened up Friday at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7 on Friday, 15 June 2012.
Intensely private, don’t expect ponderously long explanations of why and what he paints for “to talk about painting is pointless. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing, what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.”
Richter was born Dresden in 1932. His father was a school teacher; his mother a bookseller and a pianist. His father took a position in a small Polish town. As a teacher, his father, Horst, was required to join the National Socialist Party and Gerhard is a member of the Hitler Youth.
Horst was eventually drafted into the German Nazi Army, fighting on the Eastern and then the Western front. He was prisoner of war in an American prison camp. He rejoins his family after the war in a small town (Waltersdorf) on the Czech border. This would become East Germany.
Gerhard’s mother, Hildegard lost two brothers in the war and her sister starved to death under the Nazi eugenics policy. This wasn’t a happy family and Gerhard was an outsider in the small town that suffered under the threat of low-flying Russian planes, ransacking and rapes.
As a young man Gerhard was able to attend an art summer camp under the Russian-controlled state. He characterizes his work as filled with the bitterness of a young man wishing to be part of his world, but by his dialect being an automatic outsider. He studied stenography, accounting and Russian in college, but also began to take painting classes. In 1950, he worked as an assistant st painter briefly. He might have been an accountant or dentist, but he was accepted at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951.
When he was 30, he escaped to West Germany before the Berlin Wall was built and never saw his parents again. Some of his paintings have been personal–of his daughters or of one of his three wives (Marianne Eufinger in 1957; sculptor Isa Genzken in 1982 to 2003 and his current wife, Sabine Moritz) or of family members who were members or victims of the National Socialist Party.
Now decades later, Gerhard Richter has a studio in Cologne and he’s 80 years old. He’s known for his colorful abstract works and his photorealistic works. We don’t spend much time on his photorealistic styles and this is a wise move. Richter’s works sell well, making him perhaps the top-selling living artist and you can see that he covers extremes in the art world.
His photorealistic works are generally show to be muted pieces in various shades of grey that he blurs either by using brush strokes or by pulling with a squeegee. His abstract works are expansive patches of color made using a wide brush and then pulling a squeegee over the whole work.
For Richter, “Painting is another form of thinking” and you can see his thought process best, perhaps, if you have an obsession. If you’ve ever painted your own walls with a two-toned finish and thought about the expression of the brush strokes or the textured surface, that is what Belz has loving captured.
His abstract paintings have a bit of spontaneity about them because what happens, happens. “They do what they want. I planned something different.” And he knows when to stop because “When nothing is wrong any more, then I stop” he explains.
Watching him work on his large abstract pieces as the white canvases are hung on white walls is mesmerizing and Belz documents both the obsessive and meditative qualities of an artist.
In German with English subtitles.