Gerhard Richter is a German artist known for his abstract and photorealist paintings. Over six decades, his art has explored the dialogue between reality and representation.
Richter was born in Dresden in 1932 and studied at the city’s Academy of Arts. As a student he completed his early mural The Joy of Life (1956) at the German Hygiene Museum. After fleeing East Germany in 1961, Richter attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. There, he befriended artists including Sigmar Polke, Konrad Lueg and Blinky Palermo.
Richter’s practice began in earnest with his series of works based on photographs. Over the years, he amassed a vast archive of sources, which he collected in his compendium Atlas. Many of his works addressed Germany’s troubled past. These included portraits of his Aunt Marianne, Uncle Rudi and the Baader Meinhof Group. Elsewhere, his seascapes, clouds, landscapes, candles and skulls played with art-historical tropes. Others were tender and personal, including his 1988 portrait of his daughter Betty. Richter reproduced the blurs and imperfections of his sources with immaculate photorealism. In doing so, he suggested that all modes of representation contained a degree of artifice. Neither photography nor painting, he proposed, could lay claim to reality.
In tandem with these works, Richter began to explore abstract painting. His Colour Charts, Inpaintings and grey monochromes were among his first experiments. In the early 1980s, he discovered a tool that would transform his practice: the squeegee. Dragged over layers of wet paint, it gave rise to hypnotic, marbled textures and colours. Hints of known phenomena flickered in their depths. By the early 1990s, Richter had mastered this extraordinary painting technique. Abstraktes Bilder from this period have achieved some of his best auction results. Others reflect his interest in music, including his celebrated Bach cycle and his Cage Paintings.
Richter has explored a variety of media throughout his career. He has worked with prints, drawings, overpainted photographs, coloured inks and tapestries. Cycles such as Sinbad use reverse glass painting, while his Stripes make use of digital technology. Today, his practice continues to represent one of the most ambitious artistic enquiries of the past century.