Monday, February 9, 2009

Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs

Being that photographs often represent one moment in time it may be a natural conclusion that by default they also represent a response by a photographer based on his or her mood at that moment. For mediums such as painting which can take days, weeks or months to complete one work, the artist can often bring a wealth of different moods to that individual work. The artist Gerhard Richter, who works meticulously layer by layer and is in a state of constant reevaluation as the process is engaged, has said of his painting that they "never come into being in a single mood." His new book Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs from Hatje Cantz features work that can be seen as departing from this sensibility allowing for direct and rapid creations of painted works which act more to represent, like photography, a single mood of the artist.

Working with his own photographs printed as 10 x 15 cm quick prints as anyone would get from a commercially developed roll of film, he uses left over paint from a day's work scraped from canvasses and applies it to the photographs via pallete knives and doctor's blades. The application is done in an instant, the works are completed with spontaneity and with irreversible gestures. Those judged unsuccessful are immediately destroyed. This exercise, for lack of a better term, has produced over one thousand images from which 400 are reproduced here in Overpainted Photographs.

For many photographers the image has no surface. The illusion of photography in providing a window into which we perceive literal description and dimension by Richter's hand is now disrupted due to the addition of paint. Often a tense relationship, the results run the gamut of the surreal to the beautiful to the disturbed. It is all the more surprising that each in its perceived completeness was in essence accomplished by chance and trial and error.

The color of paint applied corresponds or contrasts the tonalities of the underlying photograph but link the two through formal relationships of the layers. A photograph of what appears to be a woman in a flower patterned shirt has her face obscured by a swath of thickly applied grey paint leaving her shirt uncovered and the blanket that appears on the lower half of the frame a formal compliment to the paint layer. A scene of houses in snow is disrupted by a "thicket" of amber paint whose sharp edges lends itself more to photographic description providing a less obvious manipulation. A vertical landscape of lush greenery and an idyllic road leading off to the horizon is left untouched as a "sky" of smokey grey tones sucks the earth up for the rapture.

The work represented in Overpainted Photographs spans almost twenty years from 1989 to the present. In presenting 400 of them I am equally impressed by the sheer number but more importantly, their consistency and ability to hold one's attention repeatedly. The book itself is handsome in design and printing and the tipped-in plate to the cover adds an elegant contrast to the plain canvas book cloth. Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs was co-published with the Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen and the Centre de le Photographie, Geneve. Highly recommended.


Sebastian said...

given that earlier i wrote "democratic forest" is one of my most-beloved books, maybe that disqualifies me now? I haven´t seen the hatje cantz book yet, but i just bought "Wald" (forest) by gerhard richter, published last year by walther k├Ânig, and it´s 360 pages, all fotos taken in one wood during the passing of several years. iminlikewithit.

Anonymous said...

FYI: Richter's website is a marvel -- He reproduces every page of his Atlas including the paintings influenced by a particular photo and in some cases the history of the paintings sales. I wouldn't be surprised if he also has every painting, painted-on photo, edition, book etc. Nothing like a book I say, but one could get lost for days on the site.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I think the size that the images are reproduced in this review is the right size, when you click through. Large enough to see details.

Anonymous said...


Yes...when I was making my comp I was on his site but he has 500+ scans of the overpainted photographs online. It would have taken more time clicking through them than just scanning the few I wanted for the comps.

For the size of the images I usually do 6 inches tall by whatever. Sometimes they get smaller when I grab them off the internet. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I honestly didn't expect you to write about this book. I'm a long time fan of Richter's work. Wald is also a great book. For those who are really interested in Richter, read The Daily Pratice of Painting: Writings and Interviews.
And now go get Snow-White (Tokyo, Wako).

Peter Krysko said...

Just wanted to thank you for introducing me to this book, I've now have a copy ordered.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. I'm a huge Richter fan and I hadn't heard about this book. He is just so impressively prolific.

Atlas is a must-have for any art or photography bookshelf.