Gerhard Richter (1932- ) has become one of the most well-known contemporary artists of this century. He was born and raised in Dresden, Germany during the height of the Nazi reign in World War II. Ever since he was young, Richter had always had the ability to draw and paint, but decided to train that ability into a career by attending the Dresden Art Academy in Communist East Germany. Later on in his life he ended up studying under famous artist, Karl Otto Gotz. Richter was highly influenced by artists around him, and he had the urge to break away from the traditional art mold by doing a type of painting that was very different. In this time period, art such as television, film, and photography began to skyrocket with popularity and importance. This was another reason for Richter’s drive and motivation to find break tradition and explore a creative side of painting.(1) By analyzing his work in Woman Descending the Staircase, one might begin to see that this contemporary artist truly had creative talent and expressed it through his physical talents and mental abilities to conjure up an idea for a picture.
Richter’s Woman Descending the Staircase was painted in 1965 and was one of his “Photo Painting” works. In these photo paintings, he would enlarge an already taken photograph and print it onto a painting canvas. After doing this, Richter took a dry paintbrush and smeared and smudged the wet pigment. He would do this so that the picture was somewhat distorted and blurred.(2) This particular photograph that he used in Woman Descending the Staircase was an unknown woman. Richter has several other artworks of unnamed women as well. The reason he wanted to depict this specific photograph was because of the graceful atmosphere this woman presents.
There are several unique techniques of art used in this photo painting. They are color, light, and movement. Richter uses a sense of color that is toned not quite to black and white, but more of a blue and white feel. He also brings in light through the use of brighter colors. There seems to be a light source in front of this woman that causes highlights and glares on her dress as well as the staircase.(3) Behind the woman is a strong sense of a shadow as well. Since this was once a photograph, it could be that there were several flashes from those taking pictures of her; thus bringing in a heavy frontal light source. Along with color and light, Richter brings in a feeling of movement with his harsh brush strokes and blurs. The movement is obviously natural as this woman is simply walking down a staircase, but there is also movement throughout her body because of Richter’s creative touch to this photo. By using light, color, and movement, he brings a very interesting spin to this picture—as well as to art in general.
After looking over this piece of artwork, one might wonder what the point of Woman Descending the Staircase really is. One historical artwork to consider along with Richter’s composition would be Nude Descending a Staircase painted in 1912.(4) This was a work of art done by Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp and Richter had a lot in common when it came to using creativity and unique ability that was so very different from the norm of their day. Duchamp wanted to create movement for a fleeting moment in time. He did not want something to seem frozen, but ongoing.(5) This was similar to what Richter was trying to achieve in Woman Descending the Staircase. He wanted this work to be elegant and memorable—as if it this glamorous lady’s entrance was a never-ending moment. Also, the subject matter of Duchamp’s work was influential into Richter’s painting. He took after Duchamp in the way that he did not surrender to the traditional ways of artistry during his time period.(6)
Richter was a man who painted ordinary items in extraordinary ways. He was unorthodox and unique in comparison to other German artists—as well artists internationally. There was a sense of creativity within him that was overwhelmingly noticeable. By looking through Richter’s paintings, photographs, and drawings, the onlooker is captivated into a moment that is unforgettable. After looking at Woman Descending the Staircase a little deeper, one notices techniques of color, light, and movement being used by Richter and his brilliant artistry. Not only was this painting well done in a physical and technical sense, but also in the way that it brings the viewer into a never-ending, elegant moment.
Through a Christian worldview lens, this painting reflects the very creativity of God. God provided Richter with a talent that is unmistakable—from his early ages until now. Although his images are of ordinary ideas and subjects, they are portrayed in such an extremely inventive way. Richter was blessed with an artistic eye and a Christian can look at his art and experience the artistic eye of the Creator behind it all.