The documentary Gerhard Richter Painting offers some consolation to those of us who don’t always “get” art. Working on a painting, the artist pauses, looks at his work, and wonders if he has just done something terrible. Likewise, an assistant describes looking at a painting and thinking it horrible, and then as days pass finding that the horrible sensation fades away, and the work starts to feel ok. Never again will I feel like a dope because I can’t instantly size up a work of art.
The film shows the German artist, now in his 80’s, creating a couple of abstract paintings. The canvases are large, maybe ten by six feet, and Richter first uses wide brushes (five inches or so across) to apply primary colors–yellow, red, blue, white, and black. He then uses a set of squeegees, from a foot wide to the width of the canvas, to apply additional paint, remove paint, or just generally smear the colors. It’s a multi-day process, and Richter doesn’t start out knowing what the final picture will look like.
Richter is also seen helping to plan exhibits of his works at major galleries, using scale models of the museums to help decide where individual paintings will be placed. He also spends time sorting through photographs from his life growing up in East Germany and from his adulthood there and in the West, to which he escaped as a political refugee in the 1960’s.
This documentary will not appeal to all–at times we are literally watching paint dry–but to the patient viewer it offers some rewarding insight into the artistic process.