Strip (921-6) is a digital print by the artist Gerhard Richter. This large work is composed of thin horizontal strips in many different colours, although the dominant tone is murky-brown. Richter began his series of Strip Paintings in 2010, although despite their name they have no actual paint on their surface. The digital prints are laminated onto aluminium behind a thin layer of Perspex. It is significant, however, that Richter refers to the Strip works as paintings, since this indicates a widening idea of what a painting might be in a digital age.
To create the horizontal strips in this work, Richter took one of his favourite pieces, Abstract Painting, 724-4 1990, as a prompt. Abstract Painting, 724-4 is a ‘squeegee painting’, unusual in intensity and colour. It was made by applying several layers of paint onto a small canvas with a brush. Richter then passed a squeegee over the surface, removing layers and exposing hidden colours, repeating the process of applying and removing paint. As with all of Richter’s squeegee paintings, the process involved both chance and dexterity: Richter did not know exactly what buried layers of colour he would expose in any single pass, but he could also finely control the horizontal or vertical movement and pressure of the squeegee. To make Strip (921-6), Abstract Painting, 724-4 was photographed and the photographs subjected to a process of division and stretching – documented in Richter’s artist’s book Patterns: Divided, Mirrored, Repeated (Cologne and London 2011) – so that very thin vertical slices of the painting were stretched out along a wide horizontal expanse. In earlier versions of the Strip Paintings Richter used a single slice of Abstract Painting, 724-4. However, in later works he combined strips from different areas of the original painting.
The process of mathematical division in the Strip Paintings recalls the processes Richter deployed in his major series of Colour Charts 1973–4. Whereas in an earlier version of this series, made in the mid-1960s, he had randomly arranged commercially available colours over a grid, in the mid-1970s he started with the primaries and grey and then mixed these according to a mathematical formula resulting in 1024 colours that were randomly arranged over a grid. The Strip Paintings work in a similar way, although Richter uses another work as his source material.
Another important aspect of this work is that while the squeegee paintings are highly textured, the Strip Paintings appear to lack a physical texture entirely. This operation of subjecting a textured surface to scrutiny by the camera recalls another landmark work from the 1970s, Richter’s 128 Photographs of a Painting (Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Krefeld), a photographic work made in 1978 from which an edition was later derived and acquired by Tate in 2012 (see 128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978), II (Editions CR:99) 1998, Tate P80081). This work resulted from Richter photographing one of his earliest abstract paintings from 128 different angles. Yet whereas this image resembles a landscape, the photography of Abstract Painting, 724-4 in Strip (921–6) bears little resemblance to anything in the world.
Gerhard Richter, Patterns: Divided, Mirrored, Repeated, Cologne and London 2011.
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ‘The Chance Ornament: Painting Progress Painting Loss’, in Gerhard Richter: Strip Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York 2012.
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