painting and photographic works

Gerhard Richter, A Life in Painting – a book review

I recently finished reading Gerhard Richter, A Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger (English translation by Elizabeth M. Solaro). I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the insights it provided into the life and works of Richter. I must confess that before reading this book I knew very little about this iconic German painter. The book describes his life growing up in Dresden, first under Nazi rule and then as part of communist East Germany. He became a painter under the soviet society but escaped to the West  in 1961, shortly before the infamous Berlin wall was built.

The book describes Richter’s life in West Germany – his friends and associates, the galleries where he showed his work. At the time Richter was noted for his paintings that looked like black and white (and later color) photographs. He often used newspaper photographs as the reference source for these paintings. In the late sixties he was inspired to do something different and that was to paint elaborate “color charts”. At another phase of his career he painted landscapes in a most serene, classical sense. Richter continued to change and explore different forms of expression including what might be called pure abstract paintings, “photo” paintings of politically charged images from the terrorist activities in Germany in the 1980’s, some interesting works with glass and mirrors and some huge commissions including a stained glass window for the Cologne Cathedral and a huge installation in the Reichstag in Berlin. The book is illustrated with lots of examples (78 plates) of Richter’s work through the years so one gets a good feel for each of these phases in his career.

If you know nothing about Gerhard Richter, this book would be a good place to start and if you want to retain a reference of his life and work this would be a good one to have in your library. The book was written in 2002 and translated in 2009. An excerpt from the book may be read here.


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