Gerhard Richter, savior of contemporary painting, turns 85 | Arts | DW

Gerhard Richter can walk around his hometown, Cologne, virtually unrecognized. He is low-key, humble in appearance – a small, bearded, bespectacled man. What emerges from him is his perpetually inquisitive and questioning gaze.

Critics have called Richter a “21st century Picasso”. He is one of the most successful painters alive today, and his works are exhibited in the most important museums around the world. Works of art bearing his signature bring in record sums.

Gerhard Richter's Reader

“The Reader” (1994) is pictured here at the New National Gallery

The “Kunstkompass” section of “Capital” magazine ranked Richter as the most profitable living artist. Needless to say, he was also showered with awards.

The Picasso of the 20th century

Much like Picasso, who paved the way for modern art in the 20th century, Richter has little interest in fame. And he loves women – he is now in his third marriage.

Yet unlike the Spanish painter, Richter is not the type to attract public attention. He rarely gives interviews and hardly appears in glamorous gatherings of the art world. Unlike Picasso, Richter does not let his personal life influence his work. As his biographer Dietmar Elger noted, when painting private situations, Gerhard Richter always denied any connection to his own life.

Kerze 1982 by Gerhard Richter

“Candle” (1982) on display at the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden

One thing he shares with Picasso: he is stylistically above and beyond other artists. This is the case with his first images inspired by Pop Art and his first attempts at abstract expressionism in the 1960s, which he called “capitalist realism”. Claiming consumerism is Richter’s ironic response to the official doctrine of ex-GDR art, “socialist realism”. This is something he left behind when he fled Dresden for West Germany in 1961.

An “Atlas” through the ages

Soon after, Richter began his “Atlas”, a sort of pattern archive that compiled newspaper clippings, photographs, sketches, color studies, landscapes, portraits, still lifes, paintings. historic textiles and collages. It has been updated over the decades and was exhibited in 1997 at Documenta Kassel.

He painted landscapes, seascapes and paintings of clouds in the romantic tradition. Still lifes and portraits are also in his repertoire. Richter brought modern painting into the age of photography and in doing so he created something new every time.

The 48 portraits of Gerhard Richter, extracts from Atlas

48 famous men, part of “Atlas”

Inconsistency is his hallmark: sometimes he creates photorealistic nature portraits or blurry paintings, sometimes he uses glass and mirrored objects. Installations and layered paintings are part of his work, as are subsequent color orgies that stretch the length of a wall. Examples of the latter are currently on display at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, which is holding a special exhibition of his work until May 1, 2017.

“I have no program – no system or direction,” Richter said of his art in 1966. “I have no program or style, no goal.”

A German savior of the art of painting

It seems hard to believe. It would be hard to find anyone else who explored the depths of painting as deeply and easily as Gerhard Richter. It was he who had accomplished something few in the art world believed possible.

“Richter saved the art of painting in the 21st century,” said Dietmar Elger, his biographer and responsible for the Gerhard Richter archives at the Kunstsammlungen Dresden, in an interview with DW.

Gerhard Richter's computer generated stained glass window in Cologne Cathedral

Richter’s computer generated stained glass window in Cologne Cathedral

“I am fascinated by coincidences,” the artist recently said. “Almost everything is a coincidence. How we are made, why I was born here and not somewhere in Africa – everything is a coincidence.”

One of Richter’s most discussed public works of art is a stained glass window in Cologne Cathedral. He left the window design and its 11,000 colorful square pieces to a computer. It’s as diverse and unfathomable as the rest of the artist’s collection of works, who turns 85 on February 9.

He came from East Germany, spent his adulthood in West Germany, and managed to achieve worldwide fame as a representative of unified Germany – though few here would recognize him if he was. they were passing by.

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