Neger (Nuba) – Gerhard Richter

Negroes (Nuba), Gerhard Richter

Neger (Nuba)

Negroes (Nuba)
145 cm X 200 cm
Oil on canvas
Catalogue Raisonné: 45
Gerhard Richter

Been reading Gerhard Richter, A life in Painting by a biography written by Dietmar Eleger.  This painting was first exhibited at a show named Neue Realisten. included Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, Gerd Richter at Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, Germany, November 20 1964 – January 01 1965 according to the artist’s information.

Rudolf Jahrling  (Gallery Parnass owner / architect ) – according to the biography – was impressed by seeing the work set up outside on the front garden of the house and gave the visiting artists the opportunity to have a group show – which turned out to be some of the earliest key and important “emerging” opportunities for exhibition for Richter.  There’s a snapshot of “tote”  or Dead, (one of my favorite pictures of Richter’s “photo paintings” propted up against a chainlink fence next to some garbage cans upon which set more paintings…  Imagine…  it puts it all into another perspective  – that of the humble beginings….  Early paintings were a bargained for $400 DM with as little as 1/3 going to artist and some paintings donated to the gallery to cover costs of exhibitions and catalogues…

Hard to imagine given the situation today, Sotheby’s reports that Neger (Nuba) 1964 just sold for a little over $5.6 million – (yeah million) as an key example of early “photo paintings” by Richter.  I wonder what someone like Richter thinks about that…?  I hope the work ends up in a public venue.  See the catalogue here.

The thing about these photo paintings and Richter at a grand scale is not to think of appropriation, but to think about perhaps that it may just be that it takes a painting to be able to really see  a documentary , or so called “objective” photograph ….  The original photograph not incidentally by photographer Leni Riefenstahl… AKA “Hitler’s favorite filmmaker“…..

Longitude and Latitude

Today, a glimpse out the office window alternates between rainfall and sunshine,  a black hearse drives slowly by and somewhere the ocean changes color…

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Bolsena) 1969

Untitled (Bolsena), 1969
House paint, oil, crayon and pencil on canvas
78 x 98-1/2 inches (198.1 x 250.2 cm)

Some notes on coordinate systems as a way towards a description:

“We might say that there are two sections through the substance of the world: the longitudinal section of painting and the cross-section of certain pieces of graphic art. The longitudinal section seems representational; it somehow contains the objects. The cross-section seems symbolic; it contains signs. Or is it only when we read that we place the page horizontally before us? And is there such a thing as an original vertical position for writing – say, for engraving in stone? ” Walter Benjamin (c. 1920) p. 8 – notes from Marus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (eds.) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 1, 1913-1926, Harvard, MA, 1996.

I’ve been looking closely at some of Cy Twombly’s works in the book “Cycles and Seasons”. The passage quoted above resonated with me as I was looking at the reproductions of the Bolsena Paintings by Cy Twombly and reading the accompanying essay by Nicholas Cullinan. One of a series painted in 1969, the Bolsena series it is said records the events of 1969 that may have been on Twombly’s mind – the event of the decade perhaps as NASA’s Apollo 11 space mission unfolded before a collective world audience.  It’s an interesting consideration and connection of current events of that time influencing perhaps and recorded in Twombly’s own cryptic cypher of graphic marks and painterly splots.  What a hopeful time and sense of exploration!

Gulf Oil Spill May 17, 2010 - via NASA satellite imagery

NASA’s Terra satellite captured a visible satellite image of the Gulf oil spill on May 17 at 16:40 UTC (12:40 p.m. EDT) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Instrument on-board. The oil slick appears as a dull gray on the water’s surface and stretches south from the Mississippi Delta with what looks like a tail. Text Credit: NASA Goddard / Rob Gutro

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of our own current events unfolding, as reports and images trickle in on the growing disaster of the oil spill in the gulf. NASA Satellite images show the extent of the slick as is disperses – but it is too soon to know the toll and we somehow still are unsure of how to stop the bleeding. How far we have come in the last 40+ years.

A Picture of absence and a youth’s portrait

Gerhard Richter, Jugendbildnis

Gerhard Richter, Jugendbildnis, photograph by Joachim Schulz from the series “aura”.

A couple of years ago I noticed a series of photographs named “Aura”  by photographer Joachim Schulz.  I have off and on remembered these pictures, but couldn’t remember who had made them.  I came across them again through the site GALERIE POLLER . What appealed to me about the pictures then and now is noticing the trace left behind – and about the possibility of art to transform place … to create a certain collective recollection of events…

Youth Portrait by Gerhard Richter

Jugendbildnis (Youth Portrait)

Gerhard Richter, 1988

67 cm X 62 cm, Oil on canvas

Who is this that the painting depicts ?

“She is a student from the 60s or 70s, a soulful look in her eyes, her hair over her forehead; the painting plays up the innocence of the pose. This is Ulrike Meinhof.” source


The painting of this youth looking innocent enough – harmless, sentimental, benign even – but then again -looks can be deceiving as Richter perhaps points out with his series October 18, 1977.  Ideology and the accompanying “isms” often get in the way of really seeing…

I went back and looked at the other pictures of missing pictures of the series “Aura” wondering if another thread might help me to appreciate the series – perhaps something about why these particular photographic situations – post hanging – might be of worth to photograph.  It’s not immediately apparent to me other than perhaps the pictures are all relatively well known – or by well known artists….    While I like the conceptual idea alluded to in the text describing the series, it leaves me wishing that the photographer Joachim Schulz, might have embedded more into the work – by choosing certain specific absent art pieces to tell a story.   Either way,  along similar lines  checkout more of Jachim Schulz work here – the curtains are very nice…

Painting / Photo Battle #1 [ in the spirit of the “photo battle” ]

In the spirit of Amy Stein’s “photo battle” series…  Shawn Records caught the bug too… ( comparisons / contrasts – I find sometimes make the most thought provoking combinations – sometimes…)  I decided to begin my own series of comparisons.  Many times I’ve come across photographs or paintings which for some reason or another – remind me of another photo / painting.   It’s not so much that I like one or the other images – or that I think one is better than the other – it’s more about seeing the two together and figuring out something about it from there on…

So here it goes with   “Painting / Photo battle #1: – the orifices – a face off of sorts.

Mund / Mouth (Brigitte Bardot’s Lips) - Gerhard Richter

Mund / Mouth (Brigitte Bardot’s Lips) – 1963  –  Gerhard Richter
Oil on canvas

Liz No. 3, 2006 - Jason Horowitz

Liz No. 3, 2006 – Jason Horowitz

From Jason Horowitz statement:

The work is an on-going exploration of people and the human form. The images reveal a hyper-realistic amount of detail about the subject and explore the relationship between photographic representation and painterly abstraction, the formal elements in tension with the emotional content of the subject matter. The flesh depicted is simultaneously seductive and repulsive. Shot with the same ‘glamour’ lighting set-up used for fashion images, these photographs subvert that process to look at what is real rather than ideal. Larger than life, these images become a vehicle for looking deeply at one’s self and others.

Blue Sky Gallery is currently exhibiting a selection of prints from a series of  photographs by Jason Horowitz called  “Corpus”. I attended the gallery talk this past Saturday which has become a favorite of mine – to hear a bit more about the work offered up by the artist.  There were a couple of interesting comments – one was on technique and one was actually about the photographs – both of which resonated with me.

First – the inevitable question “what camera / film did you use…”  of which I was completely happy to hear Horowitz rephrased the question to a more poignant point – which is that technique (process) matters in so far as the final product (the image) presents what the artist was after – in this case – it’s about presenting “hyper real detail” (and more) of the physical surface of the subject – oh and if it matters to you, it was all digital – a Canon 5d – printed on an ink-jet by Horowitz himself… So the “how” only matter’s in that he manages to get what he’s after.  So much for the film snobbery angle…

Second – the other question / statement from the crowd was about how the images  (more here) seemed to be rather ugly (to one particular person anyway). Most of the images elicited a response: “like a car wreck where you can’t look away” – sometimes just short of disgust.  I’d guess this was probably one of the best responses you could imagine getting from the crowd about your work on the wall.  If what you see in the images is disgusting – are you able to ask yourself – why?  Is the “real” human body beautiful anymore – or only that imaginary idealized image? What parts of your own body would you feel comfortable submitting to this sort of scrutiny?  How strong is your own self image.  I think for me, mostly I felt very self conscious in front of these images – who wouldn’t?  For me anyway – Horowitz’s work seemed to achieve a measure of success – There’s something at both ends of the spectrum working here – the general (fragment of a body – anybody) yet very, very specific – this person – that skin – this hair – that mole on this skin fold…   I think that’s why the response was widely shared – we could all connect at some level with the images in front of us.

It’s worth a look on your own time in person to see what you think if you get the chance – the full effect of the images is not able to be had by seeing them reproduced on the web.

Bruce No 2. - Jason Horowitz

Bruce No. 2, 2006 – Jason Horowitz

So to close the loop (on this navel gazing exercise anyway) -the initial impulse to consider the painting (itself  beautiful / ugly) a completely different sort of constructed image -( More on the assumed subject of Richter’s painting – -is to consider that powerful thing which is truly a unique quality to photography. Simply this: The camera is capable in the right hands to allow you to see much more than you might think and you need not try to escape the facts in front of the lens – in this case the all the better to embrace those facts.

Early Sunday Morning – A model for something more…

Hopper, Edward
Early Sunday Morning
Oil on canvas35 x 60 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

I’ve always been drawn to the work of Edward Hopper. Something about the beauty of a quiet calm moment and the pause that I feel when looking over the work.

There is an interesting passage in “Beauty in Photography” the collection of essays by Robert Adams, published by Aperture. From the essay “Truth and Landscape”, where Adams is describing how making photographs has to be a personal matter, somehow the photographer has to be in the picture…

“…what we hope for from the artist is help in discovering the significance of a place. In this sense we would in most respects choose thirty minutes with Edward Hopper’s painting Sunday Morning to thirty minutes on the street with what was his subject; with Hopper’s vision we see more…there seem to be moments of revelation…there is a sense of comprehension.”

Adams goes on a bit before this into the three elements landscapes should offer: geography, autobiography and metaphor – the intensity of which these three are present raises the artistic act of what we all “work to keep intact – an affection for life.”

There is something in the painting “Early Sunday Morning” that resonates with me. Perhaps it is the title of the painting that sets up the framework for entering the quiet moment he chose to portray. I imagine being there alone in the first warmth of the sun, separated by the empty space of the street and before the activity of the day sweeps us up into the constant motion of the day to come – you have the chance to just see the quiet poetry of the storefront. The rhythms of windows, doors, curtains… awaiting the activity to follow, a haircut, a drink – a place to eat. If, as Adams writes, Art asserts that nothing is banal, then a work such as this is definitely a model for something more enduring in our everyday existence and it is worth searching for these moments in photography.

Richter’s Atlas and other things pictured…

(cover image)
Gerhard Richter: Atlas (Hardcover)
by Helmut Friedel (Editor), Gerhard Richter (Author)

Browsed through a copy today over at Powell’s – Looking forward to receiving my copy and giving it a more than leisurely browse. Richter’s Atlas is a glimpse into his process of collection, selection and cataloguing of images (The atlas is a lot of found amateur and personal photography, news clipping images, musings…) that may or maynot be transformed, incorporated and/or appropriated (ultimately) into Richter’s painting or printing process. I’m interested to see the photographs that are put into the service of painting – his way of looking.

200 cm X 190 cm
Oil on canvas
Catalogue Raisonné: 155

It’s got me thinking about when a photograph becomes a “sketch tool” recording a thought – providing a distance – a chance to evaluate light / composition. Rather than when it might become an independent art piece – an end in itself…

Pamela Anderson: Hollywood Nights
Image: David LaChapelle – from Artists and Prostitutes

And available by way of Powells …to get on with the cycle of images …your copy of David LaChapelle: Artists and Prostitutes, awaits…. a recent interesting post on Alec Soth’s blog…. it must be springtime… It does feel rather carnal – and that’s something anyone can relate too after a long cold winter. I am rather put off by the cartoons of photographs – I guess I don’t so much the in your face work of LaChapelle, in so far as it is eye candy… and tastes good only briefly. I wonder what the shelf life will be? Time will tell I speculate.

Reflecting on self – finding a voice on ideas / craftsmanship

What about “style” I wonder… (ramble?)

How does it relate to determining your voice and articulating that voice and allowing others to find it – to be recognizable. It also has me thinking about how other artists look at themselves – through the democratic machine – the camera…. More about idea and technique (or maybe craft?). What role does style play?

Self-Portrait Three Times
24.1.90 Oil on Photograph
Gerhard Richter

Suppose a painter appropriates photography – to loosely record an image of self – three times. Is it a photograph (or just a narcissistic snapshot) or a painting? What might it say ? Richter’s self-portrait is more than just a photograph – not really a snapshot – after all. It does more than merely record. What transforms it ? The image or the stuff of the image (oil paint) ? Is it pretty? What is it that makes the object interesting to me – What provokes me to think.

In Richter’s self-portrait above – I visually I go back and forth into the image (the realness represented by the photo – yet recorded three times over) and then back to the physicality of the surface and the actions of the artist recorded at yet another time of the artist’s intention – an application of tool and oils… a layered time record. I think Richter represents both idea and craft in the image and I like it for that depth. But it’s all about the artist and his struggle to justify his painting right? But the craft is sort of only represented – not really embodied in the particular portrait example.

Consider another artist:
Chuck Close - Big Self-Portrait, 1968
Chuck Close b. 1940
Big Self-Portrait, 1968
acrylic on canvas
107 1/2 in. x 83 1/2 in.

Suppose an artist appropriates the photographic self portrait in a photo-realism sense -(beware ideology of “isms”) Close makes it his own I think by the fact that he painted it by hand – his hand – as opposed to the machine image – (and he does it again and again in different media over a long , long time )- but the image tries hard to be real – really real. It tries to be like a photograph record. But what is recorded here? Where do you go when you look at an image like this – where does it take you – admiration of craftsmanship – no doubt. Appreciation of artistic labor – and as I become more aware of this artists “body of work” a certain tenacity and an appreciation for change (physical aging / changes) over time. It’s old news, but I enjoyed looking again over the interview – “Navigating the Self” associated with Chuck Close’s show “Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005” – at the Walker last year… Chuck Close closes the interview with:

. . . I think if I had been one of those smooth-faced pretty boys, I would
not have done a lot of self-portraits. I don’t think it would have been very

Here’s a link: Chuck Close Opening Day Talk at the opening of his Retrospective at the Walker Art Center.
This melding of photography / painting is of more interest to me in particular than the question of projecting an image over a canvas to assist in producing an image – but an interesting post is presented here – on Alex Soth’s archived blog… provoking how one decides upon a content of the image – basics – I suppose on composition / content. Maybe I just don’t get it…About “style” and “categorization” by photographers and by lovers of photography – for me anyway – what seems to come of this is nothing more than galvanizing me on my opinion that it is good to avoid a recognizable style (at some point) but this probably puts at risk a weak reception of work. Just how important it is to be recognizable and therefore more saleable? Very important problem and a question – if you are trying to support yourself through your art. On one hand this is troubling. It parallels the problem of educational pedigree as a ticket to serious consideration. I wonder about questionable motivations. I guess I have a thing for amateur works.

A sense of voice is important to develop – but determining when that voice is your own is excruciatingly difficult – and who gets to decide anyway? The buying public? How easy it is to fall into a mimicry – style and all. It takes a lot to figure out a direction – and to make it your own.
Perhaps my own view is a warped and narrow view – but that’s where I am at the moment. I think finding a tone in your voice is key – but how to do that? I hope to move beyond questions of style – maybe it’s just a matter of accepting style as a given (by others) and working with it as kind of constraint. It is just a matter of doing the work.
Oil on linen
Gerhard Richter
© 2006 The Contemporary Art Institute
Maybe Richter has found a way to keep from getting caught up in style – by showing how irrelevant it is in his work – Something to think about.

200 cm X 180 cm
Gerhard Richter
© 2006 The Contemporary Art Institute
Maybe it’s a good exercise to try an make a self portrait ?