1024 Farben, a dazzling mosaic of prismatic color, belongs to Richter's Color Chart series created between 1966 and 1974. The Color Chart paintings are amongst Richter's most visibly conceptual works, though in essence they share much of the same concerns addressed in his photographically based works.
In 1966, Richter began the series with his ten Large Color Chart Canvases, whose subjects were enlarged replicas of commercial paint sample cards. Not only did Richter present the color charts with the detachment characteristic of Pop, he utilized the same commercial paints referenced by the charts to construct the paintings themselves.
The Color Charts mark not only Richter's return to color through the systematic investigation of color relations, but Richter's move from questioning photographically based representation to examining the basic components of painting itself. Richter tried to establish "an even proportion between the size of the picture, the size of the field and the number of fields."
"In order to represent all extant colour shades in one painting, I worked out a system which - starting from the three primaries, plus grey - made possible a continual subdivision (differentiation) through equal gradations. 4 x 4 = 16 x 4 = 64 x 4 = 256 x 4 = 1024. The multiplier 4 was necessary because I wanted to keep the image size, the square size and the number of squares in a constant proportion to each other. To use more than 1024 (4096, for instance) seemed pointless, since the difference between one shade and the next would no longer have been detectable. The arrangement of the colours on the squares was done by a random process, to obtain a diffuse, undifferentiated overall effect, combined with stimulating detail. The rigid grid precludes the generation of figurations, although with an effort these can be detected. This aspect of artificial naturalism fascinated me--as does the fact that, if I had painted all the possible permutations, light would have taken more than 400 billion years to travel from the first painting to the last." (G. Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993, London, 1995, pp. 81-82.)
In 1024 Farben, Richter has eliminated the white bands which separated the colors on the commercial colorchart creating an allover, mosaic effect. It is possible to relate the painting to earlier Modernist works, such Hans Arp's Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916-1917 and the 1919 checkerboard paintings by Piet Mondrian, an artist whom Richter acknowledges as an important influence. 1024 Farben also has similarities to Ellsworth Kelly's Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance, 1951-1953, a work with which Richter was unfamiliar at the time. Despite the differences in the two projects Kelly's use of chance and tones derived from light reflected off the Seine, suggests shared concerns.
In 1974 Richter created 4096 Farben, his last Color Chart work which affirmed his earlier suspicion that the differences between shades would no longer be visible beyond 1024 colors. The investigation was complete and Richter had signaled a renewal, not an end, of painting.
Fig. 1 Studio, Brückenstrasse, Düsseldorf, 1974, photograph by Peter Dibke
Fig. 2 Richter, Colour Fields, 1977
Fig. 3 Ellsworth Kelly, Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance, 1951-1953, Private Collection