Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden in 1932, at the geographical and temporal epicentre of 20th-century politics. By the time he decided to pursue a career as a painter, he was living in Soviet-controlled East Germany and the only option open to him was to train as a socialist realist artist. After graduating from the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, Richter began to resent the restrictions on his work imposed by the state, resulting in his defection to West Germany in 1961, just prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall. There in 1963 he joined with fellow German painters to establish Capitalist Realism (Kapitalistischer Realismus), an ironically-titled political art movement that combined elements of Socialist Realism and Pop Art to critique the everyday realities of life during the Cold War. Over the following 50 years, Richter has experimented with a number of distinctive and captivating painting styles, ranging from haunting photorealism to his squeegee abstracts.
Throughout his career, Richter has commented on some of the most troubling events of his generation, from Germany’s struggle to confront its wartime cruelty to his intense 1988 series October 18, 1977, which depicts the lives and deaths of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. Still going strong at age 81, his prolificacy has today made him the world’s top-selling living artist.
Images: Top – Gerhard Richter photographed in 1989; Bottom – Gerhard Richter, October 18, 1977 (from a series of 15 paintings), 1988. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York © Gerhard Richter