I am a simple man but for decades have understood my many privileges. Amongst many others, I have had the privilege of undergoing a second formative period, one with a level of intensity which has consistently allowed me to live life on a different plane than that of an average animal. Formative because well over two decades in Europe, beginning at the age of twenty-eight, coincided with a particular time of growth, and my new home propelled my cultural and intellectual being in ways I could have never imagined when I embarked on my first trip to the continent in 1985.
During these years I lived amongst Italians, Belgians, Germans, Austrians, Swiss, Spaniards, Dutch, spending months and years assimilating their independent cultures, learning the German language, absorbing its thinking, and making it my main tongue for cognition and emotions. I rapidly learned to love the city of Vienna, make it my own, and was there introduced to one of the most magnificent flavors a human can perceive — that of the pumpkin seed oil, commonly refereed to as seed oil (Kernöl).
My first European home was the city of Cologne on the Rhein, where music and the arts are deeply intertwined with the everyday life. In their Museum Ludwig I was introduced for the first time to the work of Gerhard Richter.
Entering the museum, as I did many times yearly, it was impossible to oversee the large collection of works by Richter that greeted every visitor on the first floor. At first it was too much to absorb, especially because my visits were usually aimed at temporary exhibitions or performance events. It might have taken a couple of years before I began to spend focused time in front of his photographs and paintings but a deeper acquaintance through time was clearly inevitable, for most of my time and travels were in the company of artists, art critics and gallerists, all who knew much better than me the value and history of his work.
His diverse body of work sunk more and more in me, and by the time I returned to the city of New York, and The Shed presented their Richter, Reich, Pärt exhibition, I was once more a privileged man.
Gerhard Richter, born February 9, 1932, in Dresden, Germany, is the painter known for his diverse painting styles and subjects. His deliberate lack of commitment to a single stylistic direction has often been read as an attack on the implicit ideologies embedded in the specific histories of painting. Such distaste for aesthetic dogma has been interpreted as a response to his early art training in communist East Germany.Lisa S. Wainwright / Source: Britannica
Born one year before Adolf Hitler came to power, Richter grew up under the shadow of Nazism and then within East Germany. He studied painting at the Kunstakademie in Dresden from 1952 to 1956 and thereafter became a successful Social Realist painter. Granted permission to travel to the West, he was exposed to avant-garde art of the period. In 1961 he entered West Germany, and from that year to 1963 he attended the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. There he met Sigmar Polke, Konrad Lueg (later Konrad Fischer), and Blinky Palermo (an assumed name). Other fellow students embraced such styles as Tachism or Art Informel and such movements as Fluxus, which allowed much personal expression. Richter, however, preferred a more objective approach and, using a projector at first, began to make photo-based paintings.
Relying on scenes from newspapers, personal photographs, and magazines, Richter painted the victims of serial killers, portraits of famous European intellectuals, and German terrorists (the Red Army Faction, better known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang), among other media images. His later work includes landscapes, city scenes, and portraits of his family, friends, and art world associates, all rendered in a soft-focus realism. At the same time, he developed a large body of gestural abstractions of every scale, using an array of painting methods, particularly a handmade squeegee technique that pushes and scrapes layers of coloured paint across the field of the canvas. He also created series of colour-chart paintings, which were the inspiration for his 2007 large stained glass window for Cologne Cathedral. Richter later returned to stained glass design when in 2020 he produced three sets of windows, which recall his scraped oil paintings, for Tholey Abbey, Germany’s oldest monastery.
Richter was the recipient of many awards, among them the Golden Lion for painting at the 47th Venice Biennale (1997) and the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for painting (1997).