There is almost intimidating confidence and determination in Daniel Richter’s paintings, so I didn’t expect anything less in a conversation with the renowned German artist. Interestingly, I actually gleaned even more because each gesture, offhand remark, or background noise kindled a spark of analogies and anecdotes that cast a new light and shade on the complex mosaic of his character. Speaking without restraint about his own work, his peers, or the state of the art world, but also world politics or economics, we covered a range of topics that deepened insight into Richter’s marvelous mind. What more can I say? It was an absolute treat to sit barefoot in Amsterdam’s warm spring sun, under the buzz of revived air traffic, in the Grimm gallery’s back terrace, dissecting the world.
Sasha Bogojev: You have switched your painting methods quite significantly several times. What compels you to explore so many styles?
Daniel Richter: Let’s say you have five issues that you’re interested in and then you milk them out. The cow gets out-milked. And you can’t paint with milk powder. I originally started in the ’90s with abstraction, or say, non-figurative painting or non-narrative painting. And that was actually quite influenced by just mingling every visual information that is around. You could say a radical version of so-called postmodernism, but with, I don’t know, b-boy styles, and graphic elements, smearing with the hands, and just experiments, but also being extremely controlled. And I liked it. It was interesting. It was also kind of trying to deal with the confusion of me and the world and all that, like the decline of communism. For others, it was a reason for laughter, and for me, it was being sentimental. I was then a young communist, now an old cynic.
How did that inform your subject?
Eventually, I shifted towards this whole idea that I liked, about beautiful men in the mountains. It was a mix of, let’s say Orientalism and Casper David Friedrich romanticism together, mixed with hippie ideas of Arab orientalist cliches, along with cliches of the West, which is represented by the cowboy. And, when you think about it, the cowboy, the Marlboro man, I mean, he was a homo and heterosexual icon. And it is just not anymore. It’s just a man who has cancer. And the same was with the hippies, the whole West romanticized the Arab culture, with racist tones and complete misunderstanding. But it was like this idea of a heroic, beautiful, authentic man fighting for his beliefs no matter what. Then 9/11 came and he just turned into a Nazi with long hair and a long beard.
What intrigued you personally about such imagery and themes?
I was interested in how these sentimental images mix with current ideological decisions but also, that got boring. Then, for two years, I went back to non-narrative painting, to abstraction. Actually, nobody knows because nobody has seen it and it was a hard, depressing time.
Were they a bridge to what you’re making now?
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