The Artist At Work
German painter Gerhard Richter, now in his 80s, has rarely allowed anyone into his studio to watch him work during his six-decade career, but he recently made the exception for documentary filmmaker Corinna Belz, allowing her to record his artistic process.
Throughout most of the film, Richter is in his large meticulously organized studio space, working on several large-sized canvasses at the same time.
Pausing frequently to study the images that he's created, he uses paint-laden squeegees - some of them as long as he is tall -- to spread layer upon layer of color to his canvases. Then he scrapes most of the paint off, and begins again to apply layers of color.
When the squeegees are applied to the canvas, they make a scratching sound that breaks the intensely quiet atmosphere in the studio.
Richter obviously spends hours re-imaging each canvas, but Belz condenses time in her fly-on-the-wall observational film.
We watch as Richter's images -- monumental patchworks of vivid color that are sometimes muddied by over-mixing into a patchwork of grays that seem to arranged themselves on the canvases by what seems to be facilitated accident -- take form in front of Belz' lens. We see Richter's artistic process through her selection of detail.
From time to time, Richter breaks away from his work for respite. He wanders into the neatly manicured garden adjacent to his studio and sits on his doorstop.
And, occasionally speaks directly Belz and her camera, expressing his thoughts -- doubts, really -- about how the work is going, and about his difficulty in working while someone is watching him. He is, for the most part, surprisingly self-critical, indicating quite frankly that he is not pleased with the way his paintings are evolving, and saying that perhaps he'd best start them over again.
Belz uses some archival material to impart some sense of the evolution of Richter's approach and style, but little is presented by way of scholarly analysis of Richter's art, nor is his work placed within the context of art, cultural or social history, nor is there much detail provided about Richter's personal life and backstory.
The film shows exactly what its title promises, and little else. Richter's painting process may look easy, but is actually quite arduous, and it takes an emotional toll on the artist.
Gerhard Richter Painting presents a singular opportunity to watch an artist at work. It's really quite a fascinating film, and at times it's almost hypnotic. Whether you're a Gerhard Richter devotee or not, or even have a penchant for abstract art, this is a compelling and highly worthwhile art documentary.
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- Title: Gerhard Richter Painting
- Director: Corinna Belz
- US Theatrical Release Date: March 14, 2012 (limited)
- Premiere: September 8, 2011 (Germany>
- Running Time: 97 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Location: Germany, inside Gerhard Richter's studio
- Language: English and German with English subtitles
- Production Company: Zero One Film, in collaboration with others, including ARTE
- Language: English
- Distribution Company: Kino Lorber
- Official Website