Found Photographs & Forgotten Text in Gerhard Richter’s Photopaintings
"Found Photographs and Forgotten Text in Gerhard Richter's Photopaintings" German artist Gerhard Richter has painted from photographs since the 1960s. These so-called photopaintings dominated his work until the 1970s and are most often based on images and text found in magazines and newspapers, such as Stern. This attention to popular media corresponds with Richter's move from East to West Germany. In this paper, I argue that in his early photopaintings Richter is trying to find the visual language of the West and locate his work within that context. That West, as identified in the popular press and its combination of word and image, as seen from the perspective of the German Democratic Republic, are in many ways, Richter's subject. While this East-West is not the binary of Europe and East Asia that dominates the geopolitics of today, it remains an important issue in Europe. Moreover, the West of cold-war Europe continues to colour what the West is today, and Richter's early fascination with the idiom of Western culture continues to be relevant. Richter's articulation of these relations also tells us much of word image relationships across the often opposed mediums and disciplines of painting and photography. Previously I have described Richter's photopaintings as testing the putative impossibility of translating the idiom of photography into painting. In his attention to the entanglement of word and image in the Western press, he also marks out what was idiomatic to those relations in the 60s and 70s. Based on an analysis of the source images for these paintings in the Richter Archive in Dresden, I argue that this idiom remains with us today and that Richter's paintings from the last century can make a certain kind of Westness visible.
Word & Image, East & West