Gerhard Richter Painting

Gerhard Richter Painting


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rarely does a film provide exactly what it says on the tin, but Gerhard Richter Painting is just that - a direct and unpretentious look at the working process of one of the world's greatest living abstract artists. Long stretches of it have no dialogue at all and are shot by a single camera quietly observing the studio space. It is unexpectedly compelling.

There's an element here of the 'Can you guess what it is yet?' approach to filming art, but as Richter's work is rarely directly representative, the challenge is more complex. It is remarkable, though, to see the simple blotches and lines he initially places on his canvas transform into complex multi-layered creations full of pattern and suggestion and a vivid sense of light at play. As the lines scrape and reform we seem to see forests, cityscapes, swarming hordes of insects, all emerging from a union of imaginations. Perhaps what is most captivating of all is the insight this provides into Richter's vision, his ability to contain the whole vision in his head before it is realised.

They don't always work. "I wish they were better," Richter says shyly. Sometimes he whitewashes them and starts again, or reworks them into new creations. He usually works on several at once, and they compete; what might have worked alone suddenly reveals its weaknesses when seen together with a rival.

Revealing his weaknesses is a tremendously brave thing for Richter to do. Like many artists, he feels very vulnerable when anyone observes his uncompleted work; even when it's finished he is nervous about it. Yet here we get the sense throughout that he is being completely open with director Corinna Belz. he's charming and good-humoured, just a little self-effacing but very straightforward. He talks about the philosophy of art. He doesn't have much to say about his technique, but instead he shows it to us, and his assistants discuss the technicalities. The result will be invaluable for students of painting.

Like Richter's creations, this deceptively simple film is many layered. Richter's paintings show us who he is; to explore where that came from, he shows us old photographs; layers of memory paint unseen scenes. At first there is only a collection of scattered images; then suddenly, we are overwhelmed by understanding, by the perception of form.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2012
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A look at the creative process and inner life of the celebrated abstract painter.
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Director: Corinna Belz

Starring: Gerhard Richter

Year: 2011

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Germany


Glasgow 2012
BIFF 2012

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