Saturday, 30 May 2009

Daniel Richter

Gedion, 2002
Oil and varnish on canvas 306 x 339cm

Saatchi Gallery, London
7th November 2004

Before I first saw this I already knew that there was a reference to Immendorff’s famous Hört auf zu Malen (Stop Painting, 1966); the Expressionist work that called for painting to cease unless it was motivated by political commitment, but I had no idea what the title signified. I have since read in Frieze magazine[1] that the title fuses the Gideon bible (Gideon was the poor farmer who became the saviour of the Israelites through sheer faith in God) with Marvin Gaye’s sensual ‘Let’s Get It On’ (1973) - and with Armageddon.

The canvas is very thick and rough, almost like hessian and the brushwork is very loose and expressionistic. There are some thick lumps of paint contrasting with thin dribbles and splashes.

On this surface Richter establishes his own grid with the patterned wall of a supermarket or shopping centre, its windows and the paved plaza in front. Pedestrians outside this supermarket gaze open-mouthed at the sky, frozen in time as they move towards an unseen vision. A dog is reluctantly dragged forwards, it’s as if he knows better and wants to keep well away. In the background one couple start a fight; another have stripped naked and are painting the windows of the shop with Kandinsky like washes. One little girl stares out at the viewer and a little chap in a Napoleon hat hovers above the crowd.

According to the Frieze article, these two protagonists are ‘direct quotes from works by Vasily Surikow, the 19th-century Russian painter who mixed genre and history painting in an attempt to be understood by ‘ordinary’ people’[2]. I have found the paintings he is quoting from, the latter is from The Morning of the Execution of the Streltsy, 1881 and the girl is from Portrait of the Artist's Daughter, 1888. Her strong colour contrast with the rest of the scenario draws the eye and her returning gaze, the only one towards the viewer, unsettles in a similar way to the non-plussed stare of the Grady sisters in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. However, I am no closer to understanding their significance in the painting, nor why he has injected these realistic quotations into the astonished crowd. Are they placed as commentators or judges on the theatre unfolding on the canvas?

I certainly don’t find the painting as melancholic as some of his later work, but the figures frozen in a shimmering light is unsettling and suggests the nuclear threat that seemed so real in the 1960’s. The fact that this light might be “The End” is reinforced by the title and by the sixth sense of the dog shying away from the blue glow.

[1] Frieze Issue 74 April 2003
[2] Frieze Issue 74 April 2003

©blackdog 2009


  1. Your essay gives some interesting explanations which might help us to understand this rather confusing painting a bit better! On the one site the painter 'depictures' a rather familiar daily city-street-scene in front of a supermarket ((P) ORTAL???) or "stadion" (as I read), anonymous, faceless people, dressed in an uni-style, on their way to..., on the other site (and that is the dominant impression) there are some strange details- a ghost-/death-like figure looking back or at me?, a little, finely dressed up girl looking like an alien element from past times (portrait-citation), naked figures washing the shop- windows (reminiscence of Renaissance painting as I read) that remind me- personally- a bit of the "Berliner Mauer"/Wall, a naked sitting figure above it, the most people are without bags (shopping?), especially there is a kind of apocalyptic atmosphere as you have analysed very well- evoking fear, angst, exspectation, 'hurry up!"- such a feeling could fill the air, but we see and know nothing, and even that might intensify this uncomfortable, horrifying feeling, but there is also an atmosphere of loneliness, anonymity, no individiuality, tristesse as we find in many city centres today, got dirty (smeared colours)- in any case we are not feeling well here and like to escape and to rush over as quickly as possible like the most depictured figures, but something ssems to stop them or to hurry up them?! The title sounds very strange, its explanation is not convincing to me , but probably right enhancing the possibly apocalyptic 'intention' of this painting- an inspiring image indeed- quite different from the apocalypse-painting of a Richard Oelze, Die Erwartung /The Exspectation or the expressionistic paintings of Ludwig Meidner!

  2. I think it is the sign of the German department store chain Horten. The shop’s logo has been altered into a fragment of the demand ‘Hört auf’ without the 'u'. This is the reference to Hört auf zu Malen that I mention. Richter does seem to have a political agenda in his paintings which makes them seem a little nostalgic and old fashioned (paint not being the medium of choice for the avant garde revolutionaries these days)and I think the wild beauty of the colours gets in the way of these aspirations.

  3. Thank you for these informations- yes, I remember the facade of Horten (now 'Kaufhof'), almost the same in my hometown- "Hört auf" could also mean in an ironic sense while considering the general consumer madness "Hört auf go shopping !" Typical the lost letter 'u', always we are witnesses of decay (very actual in our credit crucnch times)- yes, DR may belong to the new wild Germans, a child of the wild 68'ers and of the 'Hafenstraße/Hamburg!