Martin Gayford Profiles Gerhard Richter
When I met him in his office-cum-studio space in central Cologne, Richter turned out to be far less taciturn than his reputation suggested. In person he is small, neatly dressed, self-deprecating and wry. It is hard to imagine anyone who behaves less like a famous artist, especially a cool avant-garde one.
“I am,” he tells me happily, “ridiculously old-fashioned.” He disapproves of the way his children’s teachers dress in jeans, “as if they were going to a picnic” (he has a teenage family by his third wife, Sabine). And he dislikes the irony and humour of much contemporary art. “To me, it’s mainly entertainment. Art should be serious, not a joke. I don’t like to laugh about art.” [ . . . ]
Richter’s vocation as a painter and his need to survive this cataclysm of mid-20th-century Germany seem linked in his mind. I asked him why he believed so strongly in this venerable – indeed, prehistoric – medium.
His answer was characteristically downbeat. “I believe in painting and I believe in eating too. What can we do? We have to eat, we have to paint, we have to live. Of course, there are different ways to survive. But it’s my best option. I didn’t have so much choice when I was young.”
Did he feel, studying in the debris of Dresden, as if he was beginning from zero, a tabula rasa? “No, I was conscious of a great tradition, even when there were more ruins than houses, the tradition was there.” The cultural inheritance of painting – and the other arts of music, architecture and literature – is something Richter absorbed from his mother, a concert pianist.
In some notes he jotted down in 1964, when he was 32, he remarked, “In every respect, my work has more to do with traditional art than with anything else.” He would like to paint like Vermeer of Delft – with that precision and detailed clarity – he told the American critic and curator Robert Storr, but he can’t. The comparison with Vermeer is an interesting one.
[ . . . ] He carried on painting through the 1960s and 1970s, although painting was then out of style. His success came in the 1980s – by which time he was already in his fifties. He finds the stratospheric prices now commanded by contemporary art, including his own, distasteful. “Maybe it was always like this, so crazy and so corrupt, almost criminal.”
Behind the Pictures (The National)