A work of extreme density and dynamism, Abstraktes Bild (724-5) presents the artist at the peak of his painterly explorations of abstraction. Opacity and transparency play over layers of creamy grays, whites, and smears of turquoise, while bands of reds and greens create a gleaming surface that evoke the sense of a misty, overcast sky shrouding a landscape. The trace of a squeegee dragged over layers of wet on wet pigment can be seen in the smears, while breaks in the paint layer reveal the "skips" that effect vertical skeins of fiery vermilion under-painting, accidental optical incidents that add to the intricate surface impasto. And while no single referent suffices, a metaphor of atmospheric landscape seems apt, such as, for example, one finds in a late Monet "Nymphéas," in which light reflections destabilize the viewer's vantage point and space dissolves in washes of abstract coloration. Even so, for Richter, the abstract pictures are "fictive models" of nature, which deny mimesis: "In nature everything is always right: the structure is right, the proportions are good, the colors fit the forms. If you imitate that in painting, it becomes false" (G. Richter, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 198). Too, the notion the "auratic" presence of the artist's hand can only be ironic for Richter, because his project consciously calls into question a "signature style," which was foundational for the Abstract Expressionists. Richter worked against the expressive gestures, grand scale, and dazzling optics, which he used with investigative detachment from the medium--even as he asserts perfect control over it: "Richter's deployment of texture, structure, and gesture in painting deliberately suspends itself between scientific and expressive conceptions of painterly process" (B. Buchloh, in U. Wilmes, ed., Gerhard Richter: Large Abstracts, Ostfildern, 2008.)
Abstraktes Bild (724-5) is a prime example of the dynamic use of paint, manipulated in such a way to suggest the seductiveness of the artist's hand, for we witness here bodily movements over the canvas, the rubbings, scrapes, and cuts that represent the trace of the artist's presence in the work. In scraping across layers of paint, pigments collide, however, in ways not controlled him, so that the often-gritty textures that arise are in fact accidents engendered through the artist's technical innovations--deliberate, if unplanned markings that interrogate the notion of a painted surface. Using an arsenal of tools and techniques--palette knives, dry brushes of various sizes, squeegee boards--Richter baffles the viewer, raisings doubts as to how these works are made. To empty the work of expressive content, Richter often creates painting implements--for example, a brush fixed to the end of a large stick--that make it impossible to leave any trace of personal gesture with which he might be associated. Indeed, Richter's experiments speak to his relentless drive not only to push the medium to its limits but also to call into question the act of painting for our times: "...you realize that you can't represent reality at all--that what you make represents nothing but itself, and therefore is itself reality" (G. Richter, op. cit., p. 59). This approach is both regulated and spontaneous, intentional and accidental--"[an] oscillat[ion]...between painting as an act and painting as an accident, between composition as a result of mere chance encounters of materials and structures, and composition as the tracing of a subject's residual intentionality" (B. Buchloh, op.cit.).
In 1976, Richter began to experiment with abstract paintings on a small scale in order to create a situation in which he would not be able to visualize an outcome in advance, a conscious counterpoint to his body of photographic interventions. In setting this challenge, he experimented with chance operations and spontaneity in a way that was new for him. While the goal at the time was randomness, he came to realize that randomness per se was not possible: "...small abstract paintings [...] allowed me to do what I had never let myself do: put something down at random. And then, of course, I realized that it never can be random. It was all a way of opening a door for me. If I don't know what's coming--that is, if I have no hard-and-fast image, as I have with a photographic original--then arbitrary choice and chance play an important part" (Ibid., interview with S. Schütz, 1990, p. 256). As with all of his abstract paintings, the motif is not known in advance, but instead, comes to light during the process of painting as an intuitive act, one that the artist eagerly embraces. Lacking the foreknowledge of subject-matter or indeed, of any specific abstract outcome, Richter embraces a process whereby through the mere operation of putting paint down on canvas something meaningful will emerge: "Painting is consequently an almost blind, desperate effort, like that of a person abandoned, helpless, in totally incomprehensible surroundings" (G. Richter, in Notes, 1985, ibid., p. 142).
Abstraktes Bild (724-5) is a work of stunning visual impact; its iridescent, rhythmic sweeps of viscosity arrest the viewer's attention even as they announce a break with prior traditions. This body of work, the Abstraktes Bilder, of which the present work is a central example, carries layers of signification for contemporary concerns with intellection, contingency, process, and performance. An act of abstraction, what Richter regards as a "simile (picture) of our survival strategy," is contained in these works: "The fact that I've never been in a position to 'form a picture' of something - is not incapacity at all but an instinctive effort to get at a more modern truth: one that we are already living out in our lives (life is not what is said but the saying of it, not the picture but the picturing)" (G. Richter, in Notes, 1989, ibid., p. 214).