"Chance as theme and as method. A method of allowing something objective to come into being; a theme for creating a simile (picture) of our survival strategy" (Gerhard Richter, 'Notes 1989' in: Dietmar Elgar and Hans Ulrich Obrist Eds., Gerhard Richter: Text, London 2009, p. 212).
Revealing an elegant vibrato of gem-like exposures simultaneously enveloped by a cascading white veil, Kind from 1989 is among the most serene and delicately variegated of Gerhard Richter's seminal Abstrakte Bilder. Delivering a dramatic crescendo with the final momentous swathe of Richter's squeegee, Kind from 1989 is the undeniable masterpiece from the series of four paintings numbered 687 in the artist's self-edited Catalogue Raisonné. Densely textured paroxysms of clotted pigment skipped by the determining gossamer scrape of white paint confer a superlative balance between smearing obliteration and revelation that in turn enchances the chromatic buzz and electrifying crackle of the complex underlying layers. Richter is a skilled agent of chance: mediating an intellectually demanding battle against the unknown and unplannable, these works come into being via a dialectical struggle between artistic decisions and their unpredictable outcome. "Its not like figurative painting with a template" Richter describes, "something happens spontaneously, not by itself, but without plan or reason" (the artist in: Gerhard Richter: Painting, Dir. Corinna Belz, Zero One Film 2011). In the present work, the stunning equilibrium of Richter's nihilistic actions and assertions have encapsulated the synaesthetic and indefinable essence of pure aesthetic experience; Kind is a glacial beauty that belongs to the very apotheosis of Richter's conceptually astounding and visually breathtaking artistic legacy.
Tonally disseminated by the measured dispensation of Richter's trademark squeegee, the layered excavation and resonant accumulation of colour to luminescent effect leaves an eroded surface reminiscent of myriad natural forms. Here as though evoking the downward-flowing condensation on a windowpane or water erosion on concrete, Richter's canvas aesthetically captures the contingent forms of biological phenomena. As though mirroring Nature itself, these forms emerge out of an oscillating dialectic between artistic agency and contingent physical reaction. As outlined by Poul Erik Tøjner, Richter's abstract patina "can no longer be accounted for by reference to specific human choices during the work, but which rather appears as something that has grown naturally" (Poul Erik Tøjner, 'Gerhard Richter' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter: Image After Image, 2005, p. 12). As a product of repeated formal erasure and painterly obliteration, the shimmering and harmonious orchestration of Kind induces a pictorial surface enlivened with the illusionistic semblance of an organic life form.
Indeed, only a year after this work came into being Richter gave consummate expression to the intensely exigent dialectic between his agency as an artist and the unpredictable automatism of the painting itself: "Accept that I can plan nothing. Any thoughts on my part about the 'construction' of a picture are false, and if the execution works, this is only because I partly destroy it, or because it works in spite of everything – by not detracting and by not looking the way I planned. I often find this intolerable and even impossible to accept, because as a thinking, planning human being, it humiliates me to find out that I am so powerless. It casts doubt on my competence and constructive ability. My only consolation is to tell myself that I did actually make the pictures – even though they are a law unto themselves, even though they treat me any way they like and somehow just take shape. Because it's still up to me to determine the point at which they are finished... If I look at it that way, the whole thing starts to seem quite normal again – or rather nature-like, alive." (Gerhard Richter, 'Notes 1990' in: Dietmar Elgar and Hans Ulrich Obrist Eds., Gerhard Richter: Text, London 2009, p. 247). Richter's forensic layering of colour and compositional administering of his trademark squeegee predisposes of any premeditated order which in turn achieves a cogency and objectivity "that a random slice of nature" always possesses (the artist in: Achim Borchardt-Hume, ''Dreh Dich Nicht Um': Don't Turn Around Richter's Paintings of the Late 1980s' in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 171). Indeed, painting in this way renders definitive compositional planning utterly redundant; rather, Richter's actions and critical Yes/No judgements invite a compelling visual dialogue with chance, total indeterminacy and ultimately the ordered chaos of Nature itself.
In this respect, Richter's work most readily strikes an art historical affiliation with the paradigmatic abstract expressionist painting of Jackson Pollock. Within Pollock's densely layered paint splatters and energetic accumulation of drips, scientists have empirically discovered a parity between the fractal dimension of myriad patterns observed throughout the natural world and Pollock's spontaneous profusion of mark making. By inviting chaos into the execution of the work and arbitrating and directing its aesthetic trace, the work of Pollock and Richter alike, capture something of the compelling beauty and mystery of the unknowable. Nonetheless unlike Pollock and the heroic paroxysmal gesture of 'action painting', Richter's methodical almost clinical calculation and detachment have consistently maintained a cool critical distance from his chosen medium.
From the very start Richter has called into question the conceptual underpinnings of painting, which at times to quote Robert Storr, "has resembled a dissecting table on which the medium has been laid out and systematically flayed" (Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: The Cage Paintings, London 2009, p. 64). By vivisecting the canon of abstraction with the deliberation of a forensic scientist, Richter invites a wavering dialogue between an intimation of "something on a higher plane" whilst un-picking its claims to metaphysical truth (the artist in: 'I Have Nothing to Say and I'm Saying It: Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicholas Serota, Spring 2011' op. cit., p. 19). Markedly removed from the project of Pollock and other attendants of abstract expressionism, Richter powerfully and deliberately wields the suspension between accident and facture to further his life-long project of the spectacularization of visuality.
Within the chromatic white-noise of Richter's Kind the painstaking application of innumerable kaleidoscopic layers beneath the encompassing graze of serene white initiate a chaotic visual experience analogous to the continually moving and often confusing cognition of optical perception itself. As though taking up the empirical laws of colour theory, a scientific investigation of chromatic and luminary effects initiated during the late nineteenth century and taken up by the post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat, Richter's juxtaposition of individual colours provokes a heightened effervescent luminosity and intensity within the shimmering perfusion of tones and hues. What's more, where Seurat famously enlikened the power of colour as analogous to resonant counterpart and variation in musical orchestration, Richter also posits abstract painting as aligned with sonorous composition: "because abstract painting does not represent... one must make sure that the relationship of colour and structure is right, like composing music, like Schönberg and Mozart" (the artist cited in: Sean Rainbird, 'Variations on a Theme: The Painting of Gerhard Richter" in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Gerhard Richter, 1991, p. 21).
The aleatory power of music is for Richter the closest parallel to the ineffable visual encounter of his Abstrate Bilder. Greatly inspired by John Cage's pioneering investigation into musical indeterminacy and chance, the visual suspension of Richter's painterly chromatism takes on a synaesthetic allusion to musical pitch, rhythm, dynamics and duration (or even their absence) as dislocated from the composer's will. In Kind the eloquent silence interspersed by the resonating ambient noise of underlying painterly stratification, bears an antecedent relationship to the seminal cycle, Cage – the series of six paintings on loan to the Tate Modern named after the radical composer. Executed almost twenty years prior, Kind is imbued with the same complex and contingent crackle mediated by the enveloping graze of white giving way to grey and smeared with luminescent yellow broadcasted by these colossal works. Evidencing a prophetic virtuoso dexterity with the squeegee to rival this mature corpus, the masterful combination of unimpeachable and boundless intellectual sophistication with a diaphanous intensity of interminable crystalline magnificence positions Kind as a veritable jewel within Richter's remarkable canon of abstraction.
Oil on canvas
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Gerhard Richter 1988–89, 1989, n. p., illustrated in colour
97 by 92cm. 38 1/4 by 34 1/4 in.
Michael Hübl, 'Gerhard Richter ' in: Holbein Art Forum, No. 20, 1990-91, p. 84, illustrated
Angelika Thill, et al., Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonne 1962 – 1993, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, Vol III, no. 687-3, illustrated in colour
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner