Æqai is asking a variety of area artists to select one work of art from the permanent collection of either the Cincinnati Art Museum or the Taft Museum of Art, and tell our readers why it is important to him or her. Cole Carothers, a well known, and well respected Cincinnati painter, begins our series with his analysis of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Gerhard Richter’s Abstract Painting. We believe that the permanent collections of most museums are underutilized by museum goers. Next month, Maureen Bloomfield, Editor of The Artist’s Magazine, will give us her thoughts, and in August, sculptor Margot Gotoff shares hers.
Concurrently, Æqai will begin a series of videos of emerging area artists made by area videographer Shawn Daniell. We have put up two of her videos of NKU students, made for a senior project of hers in the past two issues of Æqai, and we welcome Shawn to Æqai. We hope that our readers and viewers will enjoy these two new regular features.
–Daniel Brown, Editor Æqai
When I first saw this painting in gallery 231 at the Art Museum, I was struck by its scale compared with all the other paintings in the same room, it was the smallest. Scale is something that has always appealed to me for its ability to draw in the viewer. Usually, paintings like this are monumental and meant to overpower us. This one evokes intimacy, I was drawn in. It might surprise you, if you’re familiar with my paintings, that I would choose to write about this one.
I think my own work has been on a consistent path for the last 35 years, but lately, there has always been an urge to diverge. Richter is an artist whose path is like the spokes of a wheel rather than the wheel itself. I find this refreshing and stimulating. At times, many artists may find their wheel a grindstone; for me, the axe is sharp enough to cut loose a bit.
This small landscape format, oil on wood, represents one of the many facets of Richter’s oevre. Here, in a manner reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism, Richter defers the grand scale of the New York School with its heroic monumentality in favor of a European sensibility. It is diminuitive, intimate, and introspective. Evocative of the continent from which he comes, the painting is packed with tactile variations in constant motion. It seems to be a kind of emotional history replete with ebb and flow.
His painting knife, spatula or squeegee pulls and smears viscous paint from side to side and up and down within the panel. The gestural sweeps of paint erase the void of a blank panel and emerge as a new universe with diverse sensations akin to earth, air, fire, and water. There is no plan but discovery. The landscape, if we may call it that, undergoes obliteration and reemergence.
The composition is bilateral distinct as east and west. On the left, heavy opaque earthy browns thrust upward and traverse the vertical axis at the center to enclose and expose a portal that leads to a distant and more delicate arangement of soft colors that are translucent, watery, and atomospheric.
To the right, those same delicate yellows and greys once continuous from left to right now move vertically from top to bottom evoking a façade that is flat, frontal, obstructive and shallow. It’s nearer to the surface, more geometric, and capped by a portion of white that is chisled loose from it high horizon counterpart to the left by a wedge of dense, heavy brown that seems trowelled on by a laborer.
Given its size, this work could be an étude for his larger monumental abstractions. Even as rehearsal, it’s a meditation on technique, the possibilities of surface, texture, and compostion. In the hands of an artist such as Richter, sense of touch, timing and scale are poetic.
Richter has painted monumental abstractions equal in size to Abstract Expressionists of the New York School yet his relationship with action painting feels different. Where the Americans, paint “inside the painting” as if they are part of an heroic landscape that is new world/American, Richter’s mindset is distinctly psychological. Pollock, Kline, and deKooning explore the canvas as a wilderness to be claimed or conquered while Richter seems to navigate his mind, eye, and heart with trepidation. His expressiveness seems more tragic, introverted, gawkward and cathartic. Spontaneity in his touch and gesture proceeds decisively and deliberately as a sequence of layers that reveal new relationships while simultaneously dissecting his emotional self.
In a filmed interview, DeKooning said that he was only interested in the space that extended from his mind to his fingertips. With Richter, I feel this is especially true. His painting evokes a gauziness of distant landscape, pushed backwards by clods of earthlike streaks and detached from the shrouded geometric mass to the right. These psychic impulses coupled with a laborer’s doggedness produce an ongoing challenge between reverie and corporeality. In either case, it is pure German angst for me.
Cole, I find your review very inspiring. As an artist and also a volunteer at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I look forward to revisiting this painting. Your words have given me pause to study those colors more deeply and to imagine the sequence of application. I had the pleasure of visiting your studio a few years back and I now feel your writing captures importance as does each carefully selected object in your paintings. At the time of our visit I had given you a small sea shell as my gift to you, a poetic object to be painted. I look forward to more insightful reviews and to the small sea shell and the power of ” smallness”.
Thanks for a beautiful description of Richter’s painting, which certainly made me look more closely, and made the painting memorable. I will look for it next time I am in the museum.