Looking at Gerhard Richter’s painted photographs, as they were suggested to me after I considered using collage/mixed media for assignment two, there has been some debate as to whether Richter should be noted as a ‘painter’ or an ‘artist’.
Once these limitations on medium specificity have been lifted and we are free to discuss each medium within the context of Art, we can begin to look at Gerhard Richter’s ‘Over-painted Photographs’ not as paintings or photographs but objects that address much larger ideas than that of themselves.
His approach to painting and his over-painted images can be said to achieve the same result, in making his audience look closely at the object, trying to discern what he is depicting and leaving it to their imaginations and personal interpretations. When asked ‘Why do most of your paintings look like blurry photographs?’ his response was:
I’ve never found anything to be lacking in a blurry canvas. Quite the contrary: you can see many more things in it than in a sharply focused image. A landscape painted with exactness forces you to see a determined number of clearly differentiated trees, while in a blurry canvas you can perceive as many trees as you want. The painting is more open.
Interview with Irmeline Lebeer, 1973
With his “Over-painted Photographs”, Richter takes ordinary commercially printed photographs, from his family album and these he smears with the oil paint left over at the end of the day, which is then pressed or scraped or lifted to give various textural effects. These photographs are just legible behind the paint. You can just about see the scene depicted and have to peer through the thick layer of paint to work out the meaning or content of the photograph.
I’m not quite sure I agree with one review…
The great sweeps of thick, dripping paint comment…in a different, artistic voice which imposes itself on the steady photographic one we thought we could plainly hear. It’s like watching Richter acknowledge the modern domination of the photograph and yet also his own refusal to give in to it. The photographic elements give something to the paint which gives something in return. The sum of both is far larger than the contribution of either alone. Lovely things, as exciting as anything you are likely to see. No artist has more to say on the photograph and how well we know it.
But I do agree that:
never have we looked so closely at a photograph than when it is someone else’s and covered in paint.
I was thinking of using this technique although it may be tricky; I’m not really an artist so it may all end up in a huge mess and I might move on to something else. The other problem I may encounter is covering up elements within the photograph that hint at the meaning I am trying to convey.