This week I watched Gerhard Richter Painting, which you can stream for free on Netflix if you have it.
I was prompted to watch more documentaries about artists by my “manager,” and I chose this one because I completely don’t understand and am vaguely annoyed by Richter’s scrape paintings, like the one above, where he appears to just drag paint across on essentially a jumbo palette knife.
Coincidentally, the documentary includes this quote from Richter, I believe from sometime in the 1960s (when he was in his 30s):
What interests me in general, and this also applies to painting, are things I don’t understand. It’s like that with every picture: I don’t like the ones I understand.
I have to say, the documentary won me over, and now I want to see those scrape paintings again. I do think they sometimes fall short, but when they work, they really work.
In my opinion, a painting works if you look at it and have the sensation of a gong going off in your head and silencing all thought. It is both peaceful and uncomfortable.
Many other things can happen too, of course, but that needs to be there. I have occasionally had it be so strong I almost thought I was going to fall over.
If you have not had this sensation, I think it is because there are a lot of bad paintings in the world. They have to enter through the eye and our eyes are so tricky. Like magpies, they are drawn to whatever is shiny. I can make something huge and bright, and for a while, you will think it is powerful. I have trained my whole life and this is still true for me, too.
At one point in the documentary Richter is frustrated, working on some of the scrape paintings, and I was amazed to hear what he had to say about them.
Hard to say. They could be a bit better. I should find a way of making them that’s just as fast, just as fancy-free, but would leave them finished too. And good. These won’t hold up long here. It’s like this: it’s so much fun and they look good for two hours. Sometimes for a day.
I have said very similar words many times about my own work, and it was both humbling and inspiring to hear him have the same thoughts.
So here’s to getting past what is just flashy, and to being humbled and inspired by others too.
Have a great weekend!