The Search in Art / Gerhard Richter
There is a video of Gerhard Richter, painting. Occasionally he is also narrating as well, offering a commentary intermittently. In his studio, he has a broad surface where he squeezes out a range of colors from large tubes of paint, a dazzling array of colors. Then he takes this long screed with a rubber edge and pulls it across the paints. He then walks to the canvas that fills the wall and without hesitation, draws the screed back and forth across the canvas making a painting of remarkable energy and beauty. He then steps back and looks at it. He comments that while it is beautiful, will he still feel that way in a week or so? At which point, he takes two tubes of black and white paint, squeezes them out on the table and draws the screed across them. Meanwhile as we watch, shocked at what he’s about to do, we are saying to ourselves, “Don’t do it! Don’t ruin this beautiful painting!”
Richter is not listening to us, nor perhaps his own inner voice, but advances to the canvas and with resolve moves the screed back and forth over the bright colors, now obscuring them with the grays. Some of the color is still barely evident but largely concealed, a palimpsest of artistic intent.
It is a stunning display of the artistic search for ever greater meaning. He was not intent on making a beautiful work of art. He was searching. Consequently, the painting now expresses that search and, in the end, reveals the miraculous life and depth of it.
I’m working on a new series of paintings using collage, something I’ve never done before. I see again and again how I wish to make “something” that is pleasing to look at, that others might enjoy, something beautiful perhaps, a pernicious trap for any artist. I also see in me this wish to make it look like something that I’ve seen, perhaps admired, maybe a work by another artist of note, this also not a useful influence. All of those subliminal forces so clearly are in the way of receiving an inspiration that would lead to something new and more alive. When responding to a friend’s inquiry as to what I’m doing, I said, “Whatever it is I’m trying to do, I need to forget it.”
It take great courage to stay with the search, this exploration, and see beyond the results at every stage of our making something. Staying with the spirit of creation, being faithful to it, is the core effort of every artist. To be an artist demands this fealty, to let all preconceptions fall away, leaving the space to be animated by inspiration. To bring something to life, becoming more alive ourselves. And, in this search, enlivening others. Not something an artist does, but rather it’s what comes from the search. This is its divine service.