But the lion’s share of the film remains Richter painting canvases, evaluating them, and reworking his compositions, often multiple times. Richter spreads brushstrokes of bright color on a canvas, lets it dry, and then pulls a wide squeegee spread with more paint across the image, dramatically altering it.
Throughout the film, Belz maintains a quiet, restrained, observational stance, a crucial decision since Richter is clearly uncomfortable with the camera’s focus on him, as he explicitly says. Admirably honest, Richter admits that he hides behind the paintings. Moreover, he’s interested in what he doesn’t understand and argues that we can’t talk about painting, what he calls, “another form of thinking.” Known as “a master of changing styles,” Richter speaks eloquently about his philosophy of art, quoting Adorno that paintings are always “mortal enemies,” “assertions that tolerate no company.” Richter says he paints without a plan and “when nothing is wrong any more, then it’s good” and he stops. Several times, I wanted him to stop before he reworked his paintings because they certainly looked great to me.
In contrast to documentaries packed with biographical information and numerous interviews, Belz includes only the minimum. Biographical details, most from the 1966 archival interview, establish his birth in 1932 East Germany, his training in Social Realism, and his turning to what he calls Capitalist Realism. The essentials also include important photographs Richter says he’s dragged around since 1969, photos of his family that he didn’t see alive again after leaving Dresden in 1961.
Gerhard Richter Painting is not the conventional, encyclopedic detailing of an artist, even this top selling one. Instead, I found watching Richter in action, painting quietly, thoughtfully, sometimes with frustration an engaging, thoroughly enjoyable way to spend time with, not learning about, this great artist.
In German with English subtitles with a smattering of English. The St. Louis premiere of Gerhard Richter Painting will be at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 15th through Monday, June 18th. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.