Gerhard Richter (1932, Dresden, Germany) has simultaneously produced abstract and photorealistic painted works, as well as photographs and glass pieces, thus following the examples of Picasso and Jean Arp in undermining the concept of the artist’s obligation to maintain a single cohesive style.
Richter is regarded as the top-selling living artist. In October 2012, Richter's Abstraktes Bild set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist at £21m ($34m).
Richter was born in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia, and in Waltersdorf (Zittauer Gebirge), in the Upper Lusatian countryside. He left school after 10th grade and apprenticed as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1948, he finished higher professional school in Zittau, and, between 1949 and 1951, successively worked as an apprentice with a sign painter, a photographer and as a painter. In 1950 his application for membership in the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Dresden University of Visual Arts, founded in 1764) was rejected as "too bourgeois". He finally began his studies at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951. His teachers were Karl von Appen, Heinz Lohmar and Will Grohmann.
In the early days of his career, he prepared a wall painting (Communion with Picasso, 1955) for the refectory of this Academy of Arts as part of his B.A. Another mural followed at the Hygiene-Museum (German Hygiene Museum) entitled Lebensfreude (Joy of life), for his diploma and intended to produce an effect "similar to that of wall paper or tapestry".
Both paintings were painted over for ideological reasons after Richter escaped from East to West Germany (two months before the building of the Berlin Wall); after German reunification two "windows" of the wall painting Joy of life (1956) were uncovered in the stairway of the German Hygiene Museum, but these were later covered over when it was decided to restore the Museum to its original 1930 state. From 1957 to 1961 Richter worked as a master trainee in the academy and took orders for the former state of the GDR. During this time, he worked intensively on murals (Arbeiterkampf, which means Worker struggle), on oil paintings (e.g. portraits of the East German actress Angelica Domroese and of Richter's first wife Ema), on various self portraits and furthermore, on a panorama of Dresden with the neutral name Stadtbild (Townscape, 1956).
When he escaped to West Germany, Richter began to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Karl Otto Götz. With Polke and Lueg he introduced the term Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capitalistic Realism) as an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial shorthand of advertising. This title also referred to the realist style of art known as Socialist Realism, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union, but it also commented upon the consumer-driven art doctrine of western capitalism. Later, Lueg founded the gallery Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf.
Gerhard Richter gets important stimuli for his own art when attending the "documenta" II in Kassel as early as in 1959, where mostly abstract post-war art is on exhibition. His own early work shows influences of informal art, the Fluxus movement as well as Pop-Art.
Gerhard Richter is friends with Sigmar Polke and Blinky Palermo during his study years in Düseldorf. Richter, Polke and Konrad Fischer-Lueg organize an art happening called "Leben mit Pop - Eine Demonstration für den Kapitalistischen Realismus" (Life with Pop - A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism)in a Düsseldorf furniture store in 1963. In the frame of this event, Richter presents his graue Fotobilder (Grey Photographs) for the first time.
A characteristic feature of Richter's work is the fact that he, up until today, has always taken a deep look into art itself. His works cannot be regarded in categories of "-isms", it is difficult to ascribe them to a certain style, it is rather seen in terms of a stylistic incongruity, thus his oeuvre is extremely complex and diversified.
Gerhard Richter paints his pictures after photographs of any kind, which he then reproduces in manifold ways. They are recognizable, due to the realistic style, but they are also concealed or simply drawn over, so that the motif, its content, is obscured, such s in the series Vermalungen (Misdrawings).
The group of works called Farbtafeln (Color Plates) is made as of 1966, for which Gerhard Richter sets various colors side by side, after the model of the Natural Color System. Gerhard Richter works on the Grauen Bildern (Grey Pictures) from 1967 to 1975. He recurrently turns to single motifs, for instance the Seestücke (Sea Pieces), the Kerzen-Bilder (Candle Pictures), the Wolken-Bilder (Cloud Pictures) or the Schweizer Alpen (Swiss Alps). He begins numbering his works consecutively as early as of 1962.
Richter is chosen as the first single artist to do the German pavilion for the Biennale in Venice in 1972. He does a series of 48 portraits, standardized images after photos of important intellectuals, such as natural scientists, philosophers, poets etc. Richter's works are shown at all "documenta"- exhibitions V to X. Numerous further exhibitions both on an national as well as an international level as well as art awards are proof of Richter being one of the most influential and successful contemporary artists.
Richter taught at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, as a visiting professor, and returned to the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1971, where he was a professor for over 15 years.
In 1983, Richter resettled from Düsseldorf to Cologne, where he still lives and works today.