Richter's Grey Paintings are regarded as his most nihilistic and extreme experiment into the nature of painting. They are tabula rasa in which the artist strove to represent absolutely nothing. He was inspired in this endeavour by avant-garde composer John Cage, who stated, "I have nothing to say, and I am saying it."
Richter considered grey to be the most neutral and impersonal colour and therefore best suited to his purpose. He wrote, "Grey is for me a welcome and unique possibility of achieving indifference, of avoiding definite statements."
Although produced at around the same time as the monochromes of Fontana and Yves Klein, Richter's Grey Paintings do the attempt to exude a spirituality or mystic meditative quality. Nor do they align themselves with the Minimalist reductivism of Robert Ryman, where painting is still lovingly detailed. While there is a certain degree of variety to the surface of his Grey Paintings, Richter stated that he wanted "to hit the bottom of expressionless painting, a compulsion not to be confused, however, with seeking to finish off art, or to abandon painting as if it had somehow rendered itself irrevelant by fusing with life." (in: Gerhard Richter, Roald Nasgaard, Chicago 1988, p.79)
Despite his intention at negation, Richter found that his was an impossible mission. He said later of the series. "It was an absolute possible statement of powerlessness and desperation. Nothing, absolutely nothing left, no figures, no colour, nothing. Then you realize after you have painted three of them that one's better than the other and you ask yourself why that is... I wanted to avoid painting. I forbade it. But I also wanted to avoid representing life in any way; nevertheless, I did represent it." (Ibid., p.79)