Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter

Work from Overpainted Photographs.

“A less well known aspect of the work of Gerhard Richter, the ‘overpainted photographs’ are not simply an answer to those who feared that photography had murdered painting, but an integrated work of material and colour. Countering the imposing format of his better-known paintings, these small overpainted photographs (mostly of a standard 10 x 15 cm) are fascinating both for their formal qualities and for the critical questions they throw up.

The show at the Centre de la Photographie presents more than 300 photographs. Taking as their starting point personal snapshots of landscapes, interiors, still-lifes and family scenes, the artist works paint onto them. Originally this gesture was a purely technical exercise, a way to check the tone of the colour Richter would choose to paint when transcribing images to painting. But becoming aware of the artistic value of these hybrid objects, Richter has since enthusiastically taken up this process: after a painting session in the studio, he produces a ‘snapshot’ painting – a sort of painting analogue of a photographic snapshot. Thus the abandoned leftover of a spatula or a large knife still coated with pigment or a few blobs of colour are smeared onto the photograph.

This modest recycling process produces a real tension between these images of the past and the cracked painting: improbable formal encounters that lead us, as viewers, to look beyond the painting. The tension between the two media is surprisingly fruitful: the depth and perspective of the photographs are blurred by the flat painting literally ‘adding a layer’ to the composition of the photograph. This technique leads to a delightful paradox: even though we privilege photography’s ability to reflect reality, here the painting, through its materiality and thickness, presents itself as more real than the photograph.

If Richter has been working with this technique regularly since the end of the 1960s, it has remained out of view. Only now, age seventy-seven, has Richter seen fit to publicly reveal this large chapter of his work, an additional link in his diverse and divergent oeuvre. And this from an artist long associated with photorealism, and who has emerged since the 1980s as one of the great abstract painters. Richter’s apparent heterogeneity of practice suggests nevertheless that his sole goal, constantly and unceasingly reworked, is always painting; the nature of the visible in his images and the reality of vision.” – Karine Tissot

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