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Gerhard Richter Painting: Director's Note

The idea for the film about Gerhard Richter developed during my previous work documenting the creation of the artist’s 115-square-meter stained glass window for the Cologne Cathedral, the first film project that Richter had agreed to after 15 years of refusing all requests.

“It’s pointless to talk about painting”. Thus spoke the artist as early as 1965, a sentiment he would later repeat. Thankfully, he nevertheless agreed to publication of a 600-page book of personal notes and interviews: When it comes to expressing himself in words, Richter prefers written ones. It became clear to me that a film about a painter must focus on painting. The actual work in the artist’s studio was what interested me most: The present moment; the authentic and immediate process of putting paint to canvas; the instruments, gestures and movements involved – emotional as well as physical.

“Painting is a secretive business anyway.” Richter said at the start of filming. Except when creating very large pictures he always works alone, which begged the question: Would he be able to cope with the presence of a small film team in his inner work sanctum for weeks and months on end? My task was to establish a mental and emotional space with the “ideal distance relationship”, as the writer Thomas Bernhard once called it, one that would allow us to coexist in the uncluttered studio, each pursuing his work unhindered; Richter painting and our team filming.

The main shooting period between April and September 2009 was an exceptional stroke of luck, a gift, and also a process punctuated by the occasional crisis. A fundamental skepticism of the status quo is not only inherent in Gerhard Richter’s worldview, it also drives the very act of his painting; the giant squeegee the artist uses to apply and scrape off his incomparable monochromatic layers of paint becomes an instrument of both assertion and doubt in Richter’s hands.

Clearly, the rare ability to question everything and yet continue to produce with tremendous continuity and reliability is a key to the achievement that is Gerhard Richter’s rich and prolific oeuvre. As we watched the painter at work we too became caught up in the tension and dynamics of the process, saw pictures emerge and disappear. Like the paintings themselves, we had to withstand the artist’s skepticism. The filmmaking process gave rise to insightful conversations in which Richter speaks openly about his approach to work and his personal history.

Using footage shot over a three-year period, the film sensitively accompanies the artist Gerhard Richter, allowing the viewer to become immersed in the subtly suspenseful cycle of the artistic process: making, viewing, judging, destroying, waiting, making, showing.

(Corinna Belz, June 2011)

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