Gerhard Richter, one of Germany’s leading artists, knows when a painting is done, just good enough and there is nothing more for him to do. When the art historian Benjamin Buchloh questions this further, Richter explains that good also means truthful – truthful to the artist and the viewer.
And Richter’s assistant elaborates that once a painting completed, it has to stay hanging in Richter’s studio for a couple of weeks, without the artist touching it again – and only then the painting has “made it” and is ready for the world to see it.
In her documentary Gerhard Richter Painting, Corinna Belz visits with Richter over a period of time as he searches for that truthfulness in a series of new paintings – and we are privileged to observe this development – witnessing a painting changing over time – until it is finally completed.
Right at the top, Belz includes archival footage from Richter’s earlier career, when he argues that talking about painting is pointless, as painting expresses what cannot be said in words.
And so Belz sets out to let Richter’s paintings and their development speak for themselves. With long sequences that take moves on in a slow pace, Richter’s process and the painting techniques are shown. Using larger and smaller squeegees, Richter engages his entire body with grace and strength to sculpt the paint across the canvas. It is impressive to see how physically challenging painting can be.
The development of the new paintings serves as an effective spine of the film and is complimented with Richter and Belz engaging in discourses about his process and philosophy. Furthermore, Belz breaks the intensity of the studio with visits and conversations between Richter and close associates and friends such as his world-know NY based gallery owner Marian Goodman or the Director of Museum Ludwig Cologne Kasper Koenig.
Plus, we travel with Richter from Cologne, to an opening at the National Portrait Gallery in London and a show opening at Marian Goodman’s Gallery in New York. At a press conference, a reporter asks him how he deals with his fame, Richter answers that although it is wonderful, it is also distressing because it keeps him away from painting.
Towards the end of the film Richter returns from another opening abroad. now happiness and relieve shows in his behavior as he explains that he arrived at the exhibition with fear and muscle pain but then exhibiting his paintings has been like the performance of an opera – once conceived in the back room then it is ready for the audience.
At one point, Gerhard Richter browses through old photographs that are about him growing up in East Germany, studying painting all the way to becoming a political refugee and then immigrating to West Germany in 1961, the same year the Berlin Wall was build. In a touching moment, the film lingers on, as Richter recalls that as a political refugee it seemed impossible for him to ever see his parents and family again – until 1987, when he had his first exhibit in East Germany – but by that time, his parents were long gone.
Closing this quiet, intimate and intense portrait Gerhard Richter is back at work in his studio and turning over to his assistant he says: “this is fun!”.
Gerhard Richter Painting premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and was theatrically released in Germany.
For more information, please visit http://www.gerhard-richter-painting.de/