Research Point – Richter’s Atlas

Gerhard Richter’s Atlas is a collection of photographs, newspaper cuttings, and sketches. Richter has been assembling them since the mid 1960s. He selects and arranges visual elements on loose sheets of paper.

They give an interesting form to his creative thought processes. The quantity of works is staggering. Most interesting to me are the collections on a single page. Obviously placing one cutting, one image, next to another, has a kind of Newtons Laws of motion aspect to it, an equal and opposite reaction. I had thought that the links between the images and cuttings on each individual page appeared to be thematic. OK, the range of images was diverse, but each page had a clear link – colour, topic/ object/ person, historical etc – but having gone through an extensive selection of them, this appears not always to be the case. For example, Atlas Sheet: 15 from 1965, shows what appears to be random cuttings – Picasso, jewellery, palm trees and toilet rolls…

I thought that I had been aware of Richter’s abstract paintings for many years – but really on examination of the breadth of his work, I realised I hadn’t acknowledged the number of streams his work takes. Outside of his ‘over-painting’ paintings, I hadn’t realised the influence of, partly his found images, but also his family/ personal photography collection. From reading interviews with him about Atlas, some of these collections, all in similar sized frames, are meant to be standing art works, others are preparation work for future paintings. As an art student, when I would have first become aware of Richter, I would have had a notebook full of acquired images and cuttings. And, for some reason, that seems to have stopped. My current notebook that goes along with my work on this course is far more written, more planned (but badly drawn) sketches – and I don’t really know why that change has taken place. I think I might change that back.

According to a Guardian piece, “some groups contain material collected as a resource for specific paintings. At one point Richter, obsessed with Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of a ship mired in a frozen sea, travelled to the pack ice and icebergs off Greenland and took numerous photographs there.” I like that idea. Thats the kind of research I want to do for a piece!!! I guess where these images really work, and can benefit me is to push the scope of my visual awareness. I improve my literary awareness by reading more – so I should improve my visual awareness by seeing more – by looking at more images. When looking for a starting point for an image I go through my notebook – but I can see my notebook isn’t visually expansive enough. I am going to change that.


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