sun 05/12/2021

Gerhard Richter: Drawings, Hayward Gallery review - exquisite ruminations | reviews, news & interviews

Gerhard Richter: Drawings, Hayward Gallery review - exquisite ruminations

Gerhard Richter: Drawings, Hayward Gallery review - exquisite ruminations

Subtle traces of the artist’s hand

22. Juli, 2020 by Gerhard RichterPencil, ink and coloured ink on paper. 420 x 593 mm. © Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the Artist

In 2015, an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter broke the world record for contemporary art by selling at auction for £30.4m, and the octogenarian is often described as the most important living artist.

But I’ve always found the prices fetched by his work baffling and the claims made about him exaggerated, since his paintings leave me cold.

The Hayward Gallery exhibition includes a group of drawings in which Richter employs tactics similar to those used in many of his paintings. A photograph of woodland is partially obscured by areas of grey overpainting. To me, this contrast between abstract and figurative elements is like a linguistic exercises, a textbook demonstration of opposites. And I simply don’t see the magic, or alchemy that others find there.

That’s why the nuance and delicacy of the other work on show is such a wonderful surprise and delight. Most seductive are the ink drawings from 2020. A pool of alizarin crimson spreads across the paper in veils of sumptuous colour (main picture); a scaffold of crisp ink and pencil lines traverses the space to lend it structure, sometimes lying beneath the pool, sometimes slicing through it like a cheese wire. Elsewhere a puddle of dark grey ink lies, like a ragged island, over an array of fine lines resembling a marine chart.

Gerhard Richter, 15.11.2017, 2017.  Pencil and coloured pencil on paper. 210 x 180 mm. © Gerhard Richter 2021. Courtesy the ArtistGazing into these skeins of colour is pure joy, mainly because the subtle details produce a finely tuned balance between order and chaos. The control of the ruled lines versus the flow of the ink is a satisfying combination of discipline and play, or head and heart.

The balance is there again in a drawing made in 2017 (pictured right), with pencils and coloured crayons, but in a different form. Your eye follows Richter’s hand as it wanders across the page apparently in search of something while, in the process, leaving a pencil trail that maps his ruminations. The colour feels more ambient, a way of creating a mood, perhaps, or a sense of place. The delicacy of the yellow against the awkwardness of the pencil lines is as touching, somehow, as an unexpected moment of tenderness or revelation.

In other drawings, Richter employs a wide range of pencil and graphite marks – including rubbings, erasures, scribblings, dots, stipplings and cross hatchings – to create what you might call topographies of the mind complete with boundaries and borders, in which the eye can wander freely. Sometimes he spoils the game by adding eyes that turn an amorphous shape into something as tangible as a head. More often, though, he allows you to find your own images, which is as satisfying as discovering angels in the clouds.

The nuance and delicacy of the work is a wonderful surprise and delight

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