Considered the world’s highest-paid living artist, Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1932, a year before Hitler’s ascent to power. Growing up under the shadow of Nazism and then within East Germany, he studied painting at the Kunstakademie in Dresden and became a successful Social Realist painter. Granted permission to travel to the West, he was exposed to avant-garde art of the period. In 1961 he entered West Germany, and attended the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, where he met Sigmar Polke, Konrad Lueg, and Blinky Palermo. While many artistic movements were spreading, such as Tachis, Art Informel and Fluxus, Richter conserved a more objective approach and, using a projector at first, began to make photo-based paintings.
Overall, Richter is known for his diverse painting styles and choice of subjects. His deliberate lack of commitment to a single stylistic direction has often been read as an attack on the ideological approach embedded in the different specific art movements. Such distaste for labels and aesthetic dogma has been interpreted as a response to his early art training under different dictatorial governments, both Nazist and Communist. But the variety of his artistic output could also be a consequence of hi multifaceted talent, which enabled him to be a champion of both abstraction ad figuration. Choosing a theme and repeating it in various works, producing series, is a signature trait of Richter’s art; one of his first series was focused on painting the victims of serial killers, portraits of famous European intellectuals and German terrorists (the Red Army Group better known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang), taking scenes from newspapers, personal photographs, and magazines.
His later work includes landscapes, city scenes, and portraits of his family, friends, and art world associates, all rendered in a soft-focus realism. At the same time, he developed a large body of gestural abstractions of every scale, using an array of painting methods, particularly a handmade squeegee technique that pushes and scrapes layers of colored paint across the canvas. He also created series of color-chart paintings, which were the inspiration for his 2007 large stained-glass window for Cologne Cathedral.
He also painted a famous series of “Candles”, which spread his fame and sky-rocketed his market value: the record price for Richter at auction is 46,3 million dollars for “Abstarktes Build”, sold at Sotheby’s London in 2015.
Richter was the recipient of many awards, including the Golden Lion for painting at the 47th Venice Biennale (1997), the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for painting (1997), the Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Vienna (1985), and the Arnold Bode Prize, Kassel (1981). He was made an honorary citizen of Cologne in April 2007, and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2012.
By Stanislav Kondrashov