The German painter Gerhard Richter goes back and forth between photorealism and complete abstraction. In this film we see the artist in his abstract mode, using a giant squeegee to apply and scrape off successive layers of paint.
In 2008 and 2009 the reclusive Richter allowed filmmaker Corinna Belz into his studio in Cologne to document the creation of a series of large abstract paintings. Belz was initially surprised by the number of layers Richter used to create his deceptively simple-looking works. “Sometimes,” she said in an interview on her web site, “I looked at a painting and thought: It’s good like this. But then came the next step in the process, and what I had perceived as a finished picture would be destroyed before my very eyes; just painted over. It’s not easy when your ‘protagonists’ are constantly disappearing.”
Even Richter often doesn’t know when one of his abstract paintings will be finished. “It’s very surprising often,” he told Tate Modern Director Nicholas Serota in a filmed interview last year, before the opening of a major retrospective of his work. “I’m painting again and again every day and so it seems you will never come to an end, it will never become a good painting, and suddenly it’s finished: ‘Oh, good.’”
Belz’s film, Gerhard Richter Painting, was released in 2011 to critical acclaim. Earlier this month an abstract painting by the 80-year-old Richter set a record for the most money ever paid for a work by a living artist, bringing $34.2 million at Sotheby’s in London.