When I told a friend I was planning to go to the Gerhard Richter show at the Drawing Center he said he thought of Richter as a painter and wasn’t particularly interested in his drawings. I was a little taken aback, wondering to myself given Richter’s brilliance how could you not be interested in anything he did?
True, the drawings don’t have the star power of his paintings but they are gems nonetheless and so interesting in what they reveal about Richter, the artist. First off, you can see he takes the business of drawing seriously. Though for the most part, they’re studies and exercises, they are fully realized and complete. Richter gives himself free rein to experiment with different subjects (landscape, mechanical, schematic, abstract and autographic) and techniques, flexing his artistic muscles through arpeggios of line and form. As he explores representation and perception, he draws tenuous hair-like squiggles, great Lichtenstein angry hatches, delicate snail trails that meander across a page. He rubs and then erases graphite or charcoal to create depth, modeling and highlights, and in one seascape, masterfully creates with his eraser the greasy aureoles of stars on a hazy night.
7.1991, 1991 a China ink brush on paper abstract work that looks like something was glued on and then pulled off leaving remnants behind is a favorite. Also, R.O., 22.1.1984, 1984 (above), a 5” x 7” dynamo of highly saturated red watercolor and slashing pencil that demands attention from across the room.
The works seem like such trifles and yet have such presence. There’s a self- confidence about them, perhaps because Richter clearly respects the artistic effort and the result. You know this because he signed and dated every one. Some might argue that even back in the 80s he was aware of his legacy and was being savvy. I suspect he signed them as an indication that the work was completed; he’d taken it as far as he wanted it to go and was satisfied.