Gerhard Richter: Drawings

Michael Newman

Gerhard Richter is regarded as one of the most important and influential painters working today.

In this HENI Talk, Professor Michael Newman explores Richter’s lesser-known and largely experimental drawing practice. Newman analyses the repertoire of Richter’s mark-making and their connections to his remarkable achievements in painting, looking closely at works in pencil and charcoal, a series of over-painted photographs, and a set of rarely seen painterly works created using coloured inks.

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Drawing is an art of existence in and through time and space, and what exists of the living body. The drawings are traces of a life, creating territories in relation to limits and potentials. Communications transmitted to whoever will regard them.

Richter uses drawing in various different ways: as a way of preparing a painting, for example. You make a projection of a photographic image, and then perhaps draw it initially and then paint it, or maybe paint it right away, but sometimes drawing can be used in that sense. But over the last, I don’t know, maybe twenty-five years, we see more and more autonomous drawings. And he’s exploring drawing, I think, as a medium for its own sake. And he’s doing it often in ways which are not typical of the tradition of drawing. He’d want to avoid them being seen as fine drawings. I think it’s perhaps better to think of them as experiments, or as operations of drawing where different drawing techniques are brought together.

What the dating draws attention to is the relation of the drawing to time. The relation of the drawing to a moment, which obviously also relates it to perhaps a dimension of a diary, but not necessarily in a personal way, even if it takes and extended period. And maybe it can be made after the moment to which it refers. And I think that sense ofoperation and potentiality in relation to drawing, is tied with the experience also of time. And of being in the moment.

He uses various different kinds of mark making, almost a repertoire. In these drawings, we see a very good example of the use of frottage, of dragging the pigment across the surface of the paper, which has in turn being put on a surface so that a certain texture comes through. A texture which has a sense of being something almost like a geological stratum. So, relating to a different kind of temporality. In one of the series, he creates lines by erasure; the use of erasure or subtraction to produce a drawing. And those aspects of Richter’s drawings, I think, relates very much to his extraordinary achievement in abstract painting, where he drags the paint using a squeegee across the surface. There’s obviously a degree of control, he controls the pigments that he uses, he controls the pressure, he controls the speed at which he drags the squeegee across the surface, but the result is at the same time unpredictable — even to him. It’s not a simple result of his subjective intentionality. He creates the situation through his choice of materials and his actions. And then, the result that’s produced I imagine would surprise him as much as it’d surprise anyone else. And then, of course, he can edit it. He can decide whether or not to keep it, he can decide whether to paint over it, which he often does until he achieves the result that he wants.

These drawings are from 2020. This one is from the 19th of September, it’s dated. It’s a very good example of how Richter uses line in different ways. You can see a line that has created a kind of island, but you can’t really identify what it is. You have a line which is more like a sort of squiggle there. You have a line that produces a contour, which is wandering here and geometrical there. Here you have parallel lines, almost creating something like a piece of paper from an exercise book. So, there you have a reflection within the drawing of the paper that the drawing is on. It creates, by means of the contour, a plane. The plane kind of parallels the plane of the paper. At the same time, you have this kind of turbulent hatching. And you have the hint there, just here, of the contour of a face. I think that’s extremely interesting, and it occurs in a number of these drawings. You could easily miss it, but when you notice it, you can see more and more of these contours of faces. Why has Richter put contours of faces in these drawings? It may be some kind of joke, but it may also have something to do with this famous story in Pliny of the Origin of Painting, which could also be called the Origin of Drawing, where the daughter of a potter named Butades draws the outline of the projection of the shadow of her lover on the wall. The father then makes a cast from this projection which becomes a portrait. So, the story of the origin of drawing involves both presence and absence. This lover is going to go away, it’s the outline not of him but of his shadow.

Let’s find another face. Oh, yes, here look. This looks to me like a face. It’s a silhouette. In the 18th and 19th century people made silhouettes instead of making photographs. So, the silhouette, the shadow, relates to the photograph. It also relates to the way in which Richter works in painting, by projecting photographs and then drawing the outline of those photographs, then painting the photograph over those outlines, which in a sense is the set of stages which we find in the story of the Origin of Painting in Pliny.

These are a group of drawings by Richter that use poured ink to create blots and puddles, which he manipulates in different ways and to which he adds drawing. I have the impression that the paper must have been laid flat and the ink poured onto the paper, so that’s an operation. Pouring the ink onto the paper. And then I have a sense that the paper must have then been moved to create flows in a certain direction. So, that’s another operation which controls the chance effect that is taking place. It’s a kind of mixture of chance and control through the operation. Examine closely, one also sees lines drawn on some of these paintings and they’re straight geometrical lines. So, there’s an illusion to construction, and to rational construction, which seems to be contradicted by the way in which the blot occurs on the surface, which is less predictable and perhaps more opaque. And, you know, we might even be able to infer from that that the paintings are a sort of commentary on the relation of construction and chance, transparency and opacity. This idea of creating something from a blot or a stain goes back a long way. Leonardo refers in his notes to a technique of Botticelli, who threw an ink-soaked sponge at the wall in order to then get ideas for how he might create paintings and compositions. So, this kind of chance effect then contributes to the creativity of the artist. And in the 18th century Alexander Cozens created blot paintings and wrote a kind of manual about how to do it. That you would start by making a blot on a piece of paper and that would give you an idea how to compose a landscape, so that the drawing came not from representing an existing landscape but imagining a landscape stimulated by the blot on the surface. In both of those cases, the blot is instrumentalised. It becomes a means to an end. That is not the case, I think, with Richter’s drawings. In a way the blot, the stain, is an end in itself. It’s a way of generating a drawing that says something about generativity itself, I would say.

Richter for a very long time has used photographs to make paintings and explored the relation of photography to painting. He’s made paintings, he’s photographed details of the painting, he’s made further paintings from the photographs of the details of his paintings. So, there’s really a very important and consistent relationship in his work between photography and painting. In the case of these drawings, he has painted over with a kind of grey-brown over, what I think are personal photographs of a forest or a wood. There seems to be something slightly ominous, I think about this covering over of the forest. The forest has a lot of implications, and meanings, and symbolism in the German context. I think the use of photographs in this case of a sort of in a way mundane wood is a way of simultaneously invoking and negating this German artistic and painterly relationship to the forest, a sort of place, if you like, of German nationhood. They make me think of that series of paintings that has been quite controversial that Richter made, a series called ‘Birkenau’. The title refers in its meaning to a birch forest, but it of course also refers to Auschwitz Birkenau. The starting point for those paintings were photographs snatched by the Sonderkommando, the Jews who were forced to assist with the extermination. They managed to make very few, I think four, photographs of women going towards the gas chambers. Richter used these photographs as a starting point for the paintings. He projected the photographs, he actually drew the images, but then the painting activity completely covers the image. So, the question arises what is the relation between the painting that covers the image and the photographic image, highly charged evidence and trace of this terrible genocide. The painting is not a representation of the event, it’s a response. So, this idea of covering over an image can be a very charged thing. It can involve concealment, but it can also involve response.

Catalogue raisonné work number 1 ⁠— not the first work Richter made, because the catalogue raisonné is not everything, it’s what Richter decides deserves to be included. And the first work ⁠— obviously in a very significant position ⁠— is a work called Table, from 1962. Table consists of a painting of a table, taken from a photograph in a magazine, and over that table he’s made tachiste gestural marks. Those marks can be read as cancelling the representation. But they can also be understood as a form of generativity. Generating something in the making, generating a new form which indicates its own process, because the mark is a record of the brush being drawn over the image. And I use the word ‘drawn’ there. Drawing is there right at the beginning of Richter’s oeuvre, and drawing signifies the exploration of generativity. How do you generate or create something that is not — and this is important for Richter — personal expression? He’s not an expressionist artist but he’s very interested in, as it were, the generativity of art. Generativity implies a future. That something will come from what you do, that people will look at it, appreciate it, wonder about it, think about it. It will have a life after you’ve produced it, and that is part of its potential.

Filmed on the occasion of:

Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999 – 2021

9 September – 12 December, 2021

HENI Project Space, Hayward Gallery

 

 

Credits

 

Gerhard Richter, 23. Juli 2020, 2020.

Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 10.1.2021, 2021.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 297mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 9.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 4.5.99, 1999.

Graphite on paper. 210 x 302 mm.

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 3.10.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 24.1.2021, 2021.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 297 mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 8.1.2021, 2021.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 297mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 31.5.99, 1999.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 302mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 1.10.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 28.1.2021, 2021.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 297mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 27.11.2017, 2017.
Pencil and coloured pencil on paper. 210 x 180mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 21.11.2017, 2017.
Pencil and coloured pencil on paper. 210 x 180mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Installation view of Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 at Hayward Gallery, 2021
© Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: Rob Harris.

 

Gerhard Richter, 17.11.2017, 2017.
Pencil and coloured pencil on paper. 210 x 180mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter working on one of his Cage paintings, Cologne, Germany, 2006
Artwork © Gerhard Richter 2021. Photo: © Hubert Becker. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter working on one of his Cage paintings, Cologne, Germany, 2006
Artwork © Gerhard Richter 2021. Photo: © Hubert Becker. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter working on one of his Cage paintings, Cologne, Germany, 2006
Artwork © Gerhard Richter 2021. Photo: © Hubert Becker. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter working on one of his Cage paintings, Cologne, Germany, 2006
Artwork © Gerhard Richter 2021. Photo: © Hubert Becker. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter’s studio, Cologne, Germany, 2006
Artwork © Gerhard Richter 2021. Photo: © Hubert Becker. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 19.9.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Print; trade-card (The daughter of Dibutades…)
Print made by: Francesco Bartolozzi, 1791
After: Benjamin West
Released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
© The Trustees of the British Museum

 

Gerhard Richter, 4.8.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 3.10.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 1.12.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 18.9.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 21.9.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 22. Juli 2020, 2020.

Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 21. Juli 2020, 2020.

Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 24. Juli 2020, 2020.

Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 23. Juli 2020, 2020.

Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Installation view of Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 at Hayward Gallery, 2021
© Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: Rob Harris

 

A Blot, Based on New Method, Plate 10. Verso: A Clumsier Blot

Alexander Cozens (1717-1786) and a pupil, n.d.

Photo © Tate

Images released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Gerhard Richter, 16. Juli 2020, 2020.

Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 17. Juli 2020, 2020.
Pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 3.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 4.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 6.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 4.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 3.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 6.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 9.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 11.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 10.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014.

Oil on canvas. 260 x 200 cm.

Catalogue Raisonné: 937-1

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014.

Oil on canvas. 260 x 200 cm.

Catalogue Raisonné: 937-2

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014.

Oil on canvas. 260 x 200 cm.

Catalogue Raisonné: 937-3

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014.

Oil on canvas. 260 x 200 cm.

Catalogue Raisonné: 937-4

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter’s studio, Cologne, 2014.

Artwork © Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: © Joe Hage.

 

Gerhard Richter in his studio, Cologne, 2014.

Artwork © Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: © Joe Hage.

 

Gerhard Richter’s studio, Cologne, 2014

Artwork © Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: © Joe Hage.

 

Gerhard Richter’s studio, Cologne, 2014.

Artwork © Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: © Joe Hage.

 

Gerhard Richter, Birkenau, 2014.

Oil on canvas. 260 x 200 cm.

Catalogue Raisonné: 937-4

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, Tisch (Table), 1962

Oil on canvas. 90 cm x 113 cm.

Catalogue Raisonné: 1.

© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 25.1.2021, 2021.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 297mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 11.1.2021, 2021.
Graphite on paper. 210 x 297mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Installation view of Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 at Hayward Gallery, 2021.

© Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: Rob Harris.

 

Installation view of Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 at Hayward Gallery, 2021.

© Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: Rob Harris.

 

Gerhard Richter, 3.10.2020, 2020.
Graphite on paper. 218 x 260mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Gerhard Richter, 10.1.08, 2008.
Lacquer on colour photograph. 186 x 126mm.
© Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist.

 

Installation view of Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 at Hayward Gallery, 2021.

© Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo: Rob Harris.

Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999 – 2021’, Hayward Gallery

Gerhard Richter: Doubt’, Robert Storr on Gerhard Richter, HENI Talk

Gerhard Richter’, official website

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