Regarding Gerhard

When I’m having a particularly uninspired day I’ll sometimes watch an art documentary or program.

I have a few that are on my repeat viewing list: Rivers and Tides (Andy Goldsworthy), How To Draw a Bunny (Ray Johnson), Simon Schama’s Power of Art and PBS’s Art:21 series.

Last October I added A Bigger Picture (David Hockney) to the list.  Really, I could watch a video of Hockney painting all day long and then some.  Seeing him build up an image is, in a word, magical.

This past Tuesday I watched Gerhard Richter Painting.

It was a fluke viewing.

I’ve always respected Richter for his status of being a heavy in the painting community, but like Lichtenstein he wasn’t a personal favourite.  However, the fates (and Netflix) aligned and I settled in to learn more about Gerhard.

Having recently viewed four of his massive-scale abstracts at the Tate Modern (they each had to be 16 feet by 10 feet),  I found this documentary compelling, especially the scenes that highlighted his process.

Working with 2 litre tubs of paint, he begins by laying down areas of bright colour – ultramarine, cadmium reds, lemon yellows – with a large 6″ brush and then squeegeeing multiple layers of further colour, vertically, horizontally, and occasionally moving the tool in a more organic fashion.  It’s mesmerizing to watch a master at work, seeing him progress with confidence and witnessing as he commits with conviction to his next action.

The fascination of watching a well-oiled machine aside, there are some wunderbar quotes throughout the film:

To talk about painting is not only difficult but pointless, too.  You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing – what language can communicate.  Painting has nothing to do with that.

[I’d like to think that at least partially explains why I find talking about my work so difficult – something is always lost in the translation between visual and verbal languages]

It’s so much fun and they look good…for two hours. Sometimes a day.

[Yup, been there.]

I don’t know what to do next.

[Nice to know the greats still struggle daily like the rest of us.]

Someone who’s not suited to the public, who’s rather quiet, who’s a bit cowardly out there…someone who wouldn’t speak up in public but then goes for it [in the studio] in secret.

[He could easily be describing my practice :-)]

Richter also talks about the complexity of publicly sharing one’s work…art being something that you do in secret and then reveal to the public.  There is always the fear that no one will notice that you’ve “let it all hang out”, that you’ve been vulnerable in creating the work.

The fact that I re-watched Gerhard Richter Painting on Wednesday puts it on the repeated viewing list.

Do you have a favourite documentary?  One that you connect with and inspires you?  One worthy of repeat viewings?  Please share below!

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