Daniel Richter

Discussions of German painting are inevitably problematic, since painters like Georg Baselitz and Markus Lapertz can lay as much claim to a position founded in the history of art as can their critics—artists such as Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. At any rate, each generation is faced with the same set of doubts: Is painting simply a medium of artistic expression, or can it actually engage in a debate with the history of art? It’s especially difficult to find the right criteria with which to judge Daniel Richter’s work. This Hamburg-based artist is inspired as much by mainstream popular culture, as by hip-hop and rap, and even Situationism. Using a mix of strategies, he treats painting not as an esthetic field, but rather as a field already infiltrated by other aspects of contemporary culture.

The history of painting provides the basis for Richter’s work. He uses different ways of handling color simultaneously: the glowing, soft-edged pastels of someone like Gotthard Graubner, for example, are juxtaposed with the transparent lines one finds in Albert Oehlen’s work. Richter foregrounds contradictions by invoking positions in contemporary painting that cannot be neatly reconciled. He insists that contemporary art has laid few debates to rest, saying “Things start to get interesting precisely where something seems to get resolved that before had not even existed as a problem.”

Various objectives in the history of painting are thus weighed against each other by being placed side by side on Richter’s canvases. He may reproduce the patchwork of art history, but he never puts his faith in pure quotation. When, in his painting noch ohne Titel (untitled again, 1995), he paints something resembling an Asger Jorn portrait, this form is then seamlessly incorporated with other elements in the painting. Through a highly organic process, each motif seems to flow into the next. The work entitled Blau (Blue, 1995), is not an homage to the monochrome; rather, blue becomes the painting’s dominant hue only by refracting with intricate structures in the foreground, as well as by calling attention to the interaction between narrow areas of yellow and red.

Richter describes his technique as a kind of appropriation, saying, “Everyone who has seen enough work by Seurat, for example, can reduce it to a very limited number of gestures.” But, rather than just using appropriated gestures, he also foregrounds the weight of history in his work. The way in which he overlaps motif and technique is a means of maintaining a dialogue with contemporary painting, when, as Richter is well aware, no picture can claim to be truly original. In each of his paintings contradictory positions oppose one another so forcefully that the whole thing seems to explode, if not at the level of the image, then at least in the seething vortex of colors and styles. This is why Richter finds his model of production in hip-hop and the kind of rap that draws no distinction between melody, sampling, text, and noise. In this sense Richter’s painting is an attempt to keep polyphony in the picture too.

Harald Fricke

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.