Friday, 1 May 2009
Picasso / Richter (Richter)
Gerhard Richter, 'Horst mit Hund', 1965
So more biography. Horst mit Hund does not mean 'Horse with Dog'. Horst is Richter's father, the painting being based on a 1959 photograph taken at the wedding of the artist's sister. Horst appears to be horsting around, his hair pulled out at the sides like a clown's. Later, the booklet tells us, Richter discovers that Horst is not his biological father. There's a back-story there we are not given, but not being given it is, in its way, relevant, even apposite. The idea of biography in Richter is more to the point than in most artists since everything in Richter is based on photographs. Photographs are arrested moments of stories we never fully get to know.
So far so good.
Richter is (briefly, and possibly annoyingly, to persist with the horse theme) a one-trick pony but it's quite some trick. The booklet doesn't get very far with the trick, mostly saying the same thing time and time again:
(anonymous...painting is open to new interpretations...inscrutable.... changes both its meaning and its information content... images as photographic in origin... sense of viewing the subject or scene through the lens of a camera.... detached from original context...permitted Richter to respond to the subject in an impersonal way, without interpreting or imposing meaning... accepting appearance without imposing a personal view... ad, almost, inf).
The man paints from photographs and blurs them a bit. Sometimes he blurs prints of actual photographs. Sometimes he blurs a lot, sometimes only a little. Although there are back-stories in every case he is not going to tell you them. Everything is detached from the sense of character, impersonal, removed from the field of knowledge. The texture has a certain deathly sumptiousness, that's all.
Death is the trick. The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns... True, they might not return, but they do leave behind their photographs. These are them, though what we get is not the photographs themselves but a half-way house between the mechanical eye and the living human hand. The latter, in a hypnotised, almost traumatised way, seems calmly to remove the face from the photograph (the photographs behind these paintings are not outstanding as photographs, merely snapshots, crudely selected moments) and relocate them in the history of painted portraits. There are comparisons to be made with Warhol (eg and eg) and Tuymans (eg), but Warhol is more sensationalist and Tuymans more aesthetic.
It is the distance between lens and hand (by hand I also understand metaphorical heart and less metaphorical mind, but the physical hand seems most appropriate here) that is Richter's territory. It is the hand that moves the paint, that touches the nerve. The mind realises that it knows nothing of substance. The heart aches but remains suspended in a vacuum. It's not going to drown its subject in its own tears. That would seem improper to it, though this stern propriety is, paradoxically, more open to emotion than a flood of tears might be. It is a very disciplined emotion and all the stronger for that.
Barthes talked of photographs as memento mori: in Richter the memory becomes problematic. Memory registers as image, registers without hope but with a certain numb tenderness, a certain numb violence. This form of thinking is a form of thinking. This form of feeling is a form of feeling. This form of touching is a form of touching. I like it. I think the mind works as he thinks it works. I think knowledge is more or less what he assumes it is. I think propriety, as he feels it, is in fact close to the kind of propriety we may be right to feel when faced with mortality.
Who is the rider who comes in on a pale horse? He looks pale and blurry, more image than self. I don't know much about the rider, no more than anyone else, but the horse (or indeed Horst) is a one-trick pony if I ever saw one. As I said before though: some trick!