Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia, and in Waltersdorf (Zittauer Gebirge) in the Upper Lusatian countryside. He left school after tenth grade and apprenticed as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1950 his application for a place at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Dresden University of Visual Arts) was rejected. He finally began his studies at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951. His teachers were Karl von Appen, Ulrich Lohmar and Will Grohmann.
They say that wine matures with age and without doubt the later paintings of Gerhard Richter are his finest. His ability to travel through art history and create and respond to his own history is remarkable. To learn skills and then have the confidence to morph them into another methodology is a difficult thing to do. The paintings Cage (1) – (6) 2006 are without doubt in my top 10 list.
At the weekend, I went to the Gerhard Richter exhibition at Tate Modern. I was blown away, not only by the richness and variation of his work, but also his methodology: sometimes planned and ordered, sometimes random – sometimes both. It made me think long and hard about the way I write, and it occurred to me that the one quality all his work had, however it was generated, was confidence. Here is a man who knows what he is capable of and who is not afraid to experiment and take risks, but at the same time is very definite about what he has to say. Whatever image he ends up with, his voice is always loud and clear. It made me realise that confidence is the most important item in the writer’s toolbox. With confidence, you can write what you like and how you like, instead of slavishly following a formula. Confidence, of course, comes with experience, but the danger there is that one becomes complacent instead of pushing the boundaries. Something that Richter was clearly never afraid to do. And that is when genius emerges: when talent and confidence and craft combine with risk.