A monumental abstract panorama spanning three metres in width, the present work is among the earliest examples of the Strip Paintings that marked a decisive new chapter in Gerhard Richter’s oeuvre. Executed in 2011, it consists of multiple horizontal bands of colour, structured like a geological cross section in myriad tones of deep green, pink, red, yellow and white. The series saw Richter broach daring new territory in his six-decade-long enquiry into the nature of abstraction. Taking one of his favourite paintings—Abstraktes Bild (724-4) from 1990—the artist created a digital replica which he divided vertically and stretched horizontally using computer software. Magnified and distorted beyond recognition, the results nonetheless distil a curious sense of order and logic from the chaos of the original canvas, revealing the microscopic structures latent in its DNA. Though each work exists as an inkjet print, Richter conceived them as paintings: indeed, the horizontal layering of the stripes recalls the lateral sweep of the ‘squeegee’ that defined the artist’s investigations during the 1980s and 1990s. Other examples from the series are held in institutions including Tate, London, the Albertina, Vienna, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek and the National Museum of Art, Osaka.
… with abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can neither be seen nor understood”
The Strip Paintings are situated within a wider exploration of Abstraktes Bild (724-4) that Richter undertook between 2008 and 2013. He began with an out-of-focus colour photograph of the work entitled Sieben Zwei Vier (2008). The following year, he created a series of tapestries based on individual quadrants of the original painting, which he repeated and mirrored in fourfold formations. In 2011, in preparation for the Strip Paintings, he made an artist’s book entitled Patterns, which documented the various permutations that could be created by dividing the painting into different-sized vertical sections. For the present work and its companions, Richter selected from a total of 8190 possible different strips, which were then stretched out to vast horizontal lengths. By digging deep into the painting’s make-up in this way, he extended the discoveries of his squeegee technique: just as the latter created unpredictable colours and textures by marbling layers of wet paint, the Strip Paintings similarly revealed unforeseen patterns and relationships buried deep within the work’s structure. In the transition from the manual to the digital, Richter created a thrilling new alliance between painting and technology, bringing his thesis on the dynamics of chance and control into the twenty-first century.
In nature everything is always right: the structure is right, the proportions are good, the colours fit the forms”
Visually, Richter’s Strip Paintings seem to align themselves with historical attempts to pick apart the chromatic spectrum: from the achievements of Pointillism and colour theory, to the works of artists such as Bridget Riley, Josef Albers and Ellsworth Kelly, to Richter’s own Colour Charts of the early 1970s. On a conceptual level, however, they mark the culmination of a practice dedicated to exploring the relationship between painting and photography. From his earliest Photo Paintings of the 1960s, in which he blurred painted copies of photographs to the point of abstraction, Richter had sought to highlight the fluid dialogue between the two media, insisting that neither could lay claim to a ‘truthful’ view of the world. In his 1978 work 128 Photographs of a Painting, he turned the lens on his own practice, photographing one of his abstract paintings from 128 different angles until it resembled a landscape. The Strip Paintings continue this line of enquiry, taking the thick, textured surfaces of his earlier practice and translating them back into something smooth and photographic—in many cases evoking ocean horizons, stratified rock or other natural phenomena. As the artist entered the digital age, the central premise of his practice remained as relevant as it had over half a century prior: that image-making is a fluid, mercurial process, and one that will always transcend binary categories.
Lot Essay Header Image: The present lot illustrated (detail).