"The blurring that resulted from the horizontal or diagonal striations seemed to have connections with his earlier habit of pulling a brush over the wet surface of his photo-based canvases. So a continuity became apparent, founded above all on his perennial need to alter the image he had already constructed"
(R. Cork, "Through a Glass, Darkly: Reflections on Gerhard Richter," Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., London, 1991, p. 8.)
Abstraktes Bild's bands of earthy tones that gracefully sweep from left to right suggest a horizon line that separates the glittering heavens from the mortal confines of the earth. It is a mark of this particular work that Richter's skill as a painter, and his unique squeegee technique in particular, creates two very distinct worlds; a series of geological shadowy ravines that populate the lower edge of the painting illuminated by a rich kaleidoscope of fiery reds, deep blues, electric turquoises and warm yellows that resemble fireworks rising up into the heavens. These dazzling painterly renderings recall a figurative landscape yet Richter's masterful paint handling technique transports the viewer from the physical world into an enigmatic world, rich with colour and texture. These contrasting yet complimentary forms conform closely to Richter's original ideas when naming this series, as although each work from this series carries the Abstraktes Bild title, Richter chose this title carefully. With its high peaks and deep gorges this painting, more than most, displays many of the characteristics that informed Richter's choice, as the critic Robert Storr pointed out, "The choice of title is significant in that it reinforces the impression conveyed by the illusionistic description of shoals, riptides, and cresting waves of pigment that these are pictures of gestural paintings not of the spontaneously eventful real thing" (Robert Storr quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, trans. E.M. Solaro, Chicago and London 2009, p. 251). By using a unique combination of skill and chance, this particular Abstraktes Bild represents the very best of Richter's masterful paint handling technique.
Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild paintings mark the culmination of his liquescent explorations into the nature of painterly form. In his broad vistas of pigment that sweep across the surface Richter tries to break down the arbitrary dichotomy of abstraction and figuration by opening up the surface to reveal to hidden structure of mysterious forms that rise and fall like a mysterious landscape. Considered a master amongst twentieth century artists for his expert handling of paint, this picture in particular demonstrates Richter's unrivalled ability to produce mysterious and atmospheric works that also question the very nature of painting in the modern age. As the artist noted, his paintings, "are about a possibility of social existence. Looked at in this way, all I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom" (Gerhard Richter quoted in M. Hentschel, 'On Shifting Terrain: Looking at Richter's Abstract Paintings, Gerhard Richter 1998, London 1998, p. 11).
The intricate layers of colour that build up to form the core of Abstraktes Bild are laid down with Richter's distinctive combination of chance and refined skill. Ever since he first gave his paintings the title Abstraktes Bild he has acknowledged the role, of what he terms 'nature' plays in his paintings. In 1990, the year after this painting was executed Richter noted, "Accept that I plan nothing. Any thoughts on my part about the "construction" of a picture are false, and if the execution of the works, this is only because I partly destroy it, or because it works in spite of everything - not by jarring and not by looking the way I planned" (Ibid., p. 14). To achieve this superior effect, Richter lays down numerous thin strata of paint, then as the pigment begins to dry, drags a rubber squeegee across the surface, disrupting his freshly painted top stratum to reveal a kaleidoscope of previous layers, all of which combine and coalesce to form a complex coalition of colour and depth. This use of the squeegee proved to be an important innovation for Richter, as it enabled him to relinquish a certain degree of artistic control whilst enhancing the physical qualities of the paint. As Dietmar Elger, the director of the Gerhard Richter Archive points out, "For Richter, the squeegee is the most important implement for integrating coincidence into his art. For years, he used it sparingly, but he came to appreciate how the structure of paint applied with a squeegee can never be completely controlled. It thus introduced a moment of surprise from a creative dead-end, destroying a prior, unsatisfactory effort and opening the door to a fresh start. "It is a good technique for switching off thinking" Richter has said. "Consciously, I can't calculate. But subconsciously, I can sense it. This is a nice 'between' state" (Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, trans. E.M. Solaro, Chicago and London 2009, p. 251).
Although seemingly starkly different to his earlier 'photo-paintings', the technique Richter used in Abstraktes Bild is a continuation of the same aesthetic process. The technique of painting, overpainting and erasure clearly visible in works from this period relates to Richter pioneering works from the 1960's. According to art curator and critic Richard Cork, "the blurring that resulted from the horizontal or diagonal striations seemed to have connections with his earlier habit of pulling a brush over the wet surface of his photo-based canvases. So a continuity became apparent, founded above all on his perennial need to alter the image he had already constructed." (R. Cork, "Through a Glass, Darkly: Reflections on Gerhard Richter" Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., London 1991, p. 8.)
Abstraktes Bild was painted during a time that is widely recognized as Richter's best period for pure abstraction, marking the culmination of a twenty year journey during which time he came to master his own unique language of expression. The artist's enjoyment of the painterly process is self-evident in the luxurious swathes of rich pigment that stretch out across the surface of the canvas gently parting, in places, to reveal the multi-coloured traces of its origins. Seeming to both reveal and undermine a perceptual depth to the painting, the effect of these squeegeed strips with their myriad details of colour and pattern is deliberately ambiguous. Seeming to both conceal and reveal at the same time and vying with one another for the eye's attention, these stripes provide a pictorial demonstration of Richter's belief that what we call 'reality' is ultimately a 'fiction,' a mere 'model' for understanding the world. SJ