Kerze II is a signed offset lithograph print in colours with hand-applied oil paint by Gerhard Richter. It was issued 1989 in a very limited edition of 50 and is part of the Atlas series. Like Kerze (1988), the work focuses on the vanitas-like motif of the candle. Melding Richter’s squeegee-based abstracts, his Übermalungen – or ‘overpainted photographs’ – and his Atlas-based, photorealistic paintings, in this work the candle motif is obscured by areas of gesturally applied black oil paint.
Kerze II is a standout example of Richter’s approach to painting and the image. Like Kerze, a work produced in the previous year, Kerze II Incorporates the candle motif into its composition. Unlike its predecessor, however, this work partially obscures Richter’s highly-detailed, photorealist depiction of the candle with a number of ‘squeegeed’ lines of black paint. This deconstructive - or perhaps destructive - act references Richter’s continued desire to bring about what he calls the ‘death of painting itself’. The origins of this radical bent find themselves in Richter’s early artistic training, which he received during the 1950s and early 60s at the Dresden Academy. Then under the aegis of East Germany’s ruling SED – or Socialist Unity Party – and within the Soviet sphere of influence, the art school was restrictive. Together with the Documenta II exhibition (1959), held in the West German city of Kassel and featuring works by Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso, its limitations pushed Richter to leave East Germany, in 1961, and to seek out methods of undermining all things ‘traditional’ in his own artistic practice.
Noting the relationship between the candle, his own work, and canonical art history, Richter once said: 'I was fascinated by these motifs, and that [fascination] is also nicely distanced. I felt protected because the motifs are so art-historically charged, and I no longer needed to say that I painted them for myself. The motifs were covered by this styled composition, out-of-focus quality, and perfection. So beautifully painted, they take away the fear.’