The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
For more than 40 years, the work of the German-born painter Gerhard
Richter (1932- ) has been a continual surprise; it
seems to follow no predictable pattern, no predetermined path, no consistent
style. And, for those who like to categorize, it has been the occasion of
much critical comment, some of it unfavorable. But Richter is not interested
in style, nor even in images: he is interested in painting, what it is and
how it is; he seeks that elusive something at its core that makes it different
from all other forms of art, whether music, poetry, or even other visual arts.
Early on he painted only in grays, producing an oeuvre that looked like a
pre-Technicolor world or clippings from newspapers before there was color
printing. Later, he turned to color, to brilliant colors in geometric forms
that exploded all over huge, larger-than-life-sized canvases. Yet, at the
same time, he was producing soft-edged, atmospheric landscapes and hard-edged,
brassy abstracts; his subjects could be 1940s fighter planes in a Hollywood
sky or dewy-eyed babies in their mothers' arms whose slightly out-of-focus
images made them look like they had been taken from the family photo album.
There are pictures of death and pictures of violence, and like the world they
are taken from, they coexist, often side by side. Some of the gray-toned paintings
have an "archival" feel—forgotten images, but somehow familiar. Two
of the most arresting in this category are 48 Portraits, black-and-white oil paintings of past leaders in the arts and sciences,
and Eight Student Nurses, their black-and-white likenesses
as unremarkable as a page from their student yearbook, but which are in reality
icons for a horrific mass murder. Often, the very disregard of the dramatic
possibilities of a motif only heightens its drama.
Southgate MT. Station (577-2). JAMA. 2003;289(12):1474. doi:10.1001/jama.289.12.1474