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Abstract

Gerhard Richter’s Abstract series comprise experimentations with abstraction begun in the late 1970s. Showcasing his revolutionary rejection of traditional painting techniques, these digital prints mirror the depth in his sweeping compositions, created using squeegees. Richter’s use of colour is deeply emotive as dramatically contrastive hues merge, becoming ominously muddy.

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Meaning & Analysis

Born in Dresden in 1932, Gerhard Richter is one of the most eminent German visual artists of our time. Well-known for his photorealistic ‘blur’ paintings and Übermalungen – overpainted photographs – Richter began to explore the possibilities of abstraction in the late 1970s. The Abstract collection brings together a number of original prints that foreground the artistic outcomes of these innovative experimentations with non-representation. A bold, revolutionary rejection of those traditional painting techniques espoused by the art historical canon, Richter’s abstract works are amongst his most recognisable, and most sought-after on the art market.

Abstraktes Bild (P1) (1990) is a standout example of both Richter’s methodological approach to abstraction, and his unique visual style. A digital print, the work showcases a depth and precision. This is product of Richter’s use of squeegees as means to apply – and embellish – a wide variety of oil paints and different, at times clashing hues. The photographic print Abstraktes Foto (1989) operates in a similar mode; this time, however, the work’s monochromatic surface references Richter’s earlier photorealist paintings from the ‘60s, such as Wolken (Clouds) (1969) and Elisabeth II (1966). In Haggadah (P2) (2014), Richter’s abstraction becomes visceral; sections of paint are prized away from the canvas to reveal a dynamic complexity that references the artwork’s creation.

As an art student in post-war Germany, Richter was constrained in terms of both the subjects and methods he was able to use. Commenting on this period, Richter said: "It became increasingly ideological. For example, we weren't able to borrow books that dealt with the period beyond the onset of Impressionism because that was when bourgeois decadence set in." In this collection, the stultifying, socialist realist training that Richter received at the Dresden Academy in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is achingly present – or indeed absent; speaking to Richter’s desire to disrupt and dismantle artistic convention, these works are de-aligned from any concrete practice. As such, they are part of what Richter has called the ‘death of painting’.

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