There is something unsettling in Richter’s serendipitious interventions. Using his own prosaic 10 x 15cm colour photographs that have been commercially printed as the basis of the works, Richter overlays the surface of the photograph with skeins of paint that disturb the reflexivity of each medium. Dragging the photograph through the paint or using a palette knife to apply layers of colour, the surfaces of paint and photograph no longer exist as separate entities. The process produces punctum like clefts rent in the fabric of time and space. If the intervention is judged unsuccessful the result if immediately destroyed.
Photography’s pretense of claiming reality is relativized by repainting. Splashes of paint present just as much “reality” as the base upon which they appear. The repainted photos convey ambiguities such as the role of figure relative to background as analyzed by Yve-Alain Bois.
"My paintings are smarter than I am" is a frequently quoted statement of Richter’s, which the story behind Aunt Marianne confirms. When, in an interview with Nicholas Serota, the artist defines painting as a "basic attribute" akin to dancing or singing that "endures," he is not connecting it to analytical or conceptual thought: "I never knew what I was doing." The meaning of his paintings remains as blurry as the contours of his motifs. Banality and content, intuition and calculation, pure surface and auratic depth—along with their beauty, it’s the ambivalence in Richter’s paintings that exert such enormous fascination. In the final analysis, the secret of his painting resists language.
“By placing paint on photographs, with all their random and involuntary expressiveness, Gerhard Richter reinforces the unique aspect of each of these mediums and opens a field of tension rich in paradoxes, as old as the couple – painting / photography – which has largely defined modern art.”
Text from Centre de la Photographie website