“I can't always reach the image in my mind,” Gerhard Richter once said. “Almost never, in fact. So that the abstract image I create is not quite there, but it gets to the point where I can leave it.” Born February 9, 1932 in Germany, just before the Nazis rose to power and living through both the immolation of Germany during World War II and the separation of the country into East and West, Richter always strove to reach the images in his head, arriving finally at works such as G.A.4 (21.1.84) (above, from 1984). Richter remains today one of the most important painters of the twentieth century, especially in Gemany, but also remains an elusive figure. “Modern art has always only shown itself to me in trends and blowhards, so I couldn't be a modern artist,” he said in his resistance of labels. “There were always powerful movements or groups that today we don't even know anymore.” Richter has been and always will be a movement of one, going only where his imagination takes him and at his own pace.
Since the 1960s, Richter incorporates photography into his art, especially in printmaking. Sometimes, Richter goes for completely true fidelity, painting with almost photographic realism and hyper-realism. Other times, as in his Elizabeth (above, from 1966), a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, Richter takes the photographic presence and asks questions about reality and representation. By placing several photographs of the Queen slightly out of alignment, Richter creates a completely different portrait of the monarch that is simultaneously identifiable yet unrecognizable. Richter himself seems always questioning of his identity as an artist. “I never worked at painting as if it were a job,” he once said. “It was always out of interest or for fun, a desire to try something.” By resisting the labels of movements and trends and even the label of a painter itself, Richter creates a space within which he can move freely and realize his ideas without the burden of preconceived ideology.
“How could one be in this world without feeling dismayed by it?” Richter once asked. “Even if one paints flowers and gingerbread. Form is all we have to help us cope with fundamentally chaotic facts and assaults. Formulating something is a great start. I trust form, trust my feeling or capacity to find the right form for something. Even if that is only by being well organized. That too is form.” Rather than curse the darkness of chaos, Richter chose to light a candle of form, specifically in the form of a series of paintings of candles such as the one above (from 1982). The rock group Sonic Youth used this painting for the cover of their 1988 album Daydream Nation, perhaps seeing the same longing for form in the photorealist painting that their angst-driven music conveyed.