Gerhard Richter, ‘Kerze II (Candle II)’, 1989, Phillips

Signed and dated in pencil on the front, and signed, dated and numbered 'II/IX' in black felt-tip pen on the reverse (there were also 50 in Arabic numerals), published by Achenbach Art Edition, Düsseldorf, framed.

From the Catalogue:
The translucent light of a single, flickering candle demands an emotional response. Feelings of serenity, hope, even determination are irrevocably twinned with an undercurrent of isolation, evoking the mourning and nostalgia of remembrance. We are drawn into the image by all that the candle has symbolised in the media, in the muscle memory of repeated religious traditions, and in art history.

Dutch painters of the 17th Century employed the image of the candle (particularly the extinguished candle) to draw attention to the fleeting nature of mortality - the impermanence and futility of all earthly things. However, the candle was rarely depicted by itself. More often the image was accompanied by a host of other symbols, skulls, hourglasses, withered flowers and rotting fruit, which combined created the Vanitas allegory.

Richter does away with the additional props that create this moralising visual tableau. His application of black oil paint with a squeegee over the top of the photomechanical image quite literally wipes away the detritus of this allegory, denying and (by the very nature of negation) alluding to the wider visual history that this image occupies.

However, Richter is asking more of the viewer than simply to infer the allegorical meaning of the candle’s depiction. In Kerze II, two different layers of reality engage on one sheet of paper. The figurative realism of the candle against the abstraction of the oil paint are opposing positions that Richter playfully asks the viewer to turn on their head. The candle is an illusion, a reproduction of a painting, a fictive image - the oil paint however, is real in a physical way, tangible on the paper, a thickly applied obstruction between us and the image.
Kerze II exemplifies the fundamental ambivalence towards abstraction and figuration, to appearance and reality that underpins Richter’s approach to image-making. What is an image? This is the question that Kerze II asks of us, and that Richter has repeatedly asked of his viewer throughout his œuvre.

Hubertus Butin 66

About Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter is known for a prolific and stylistically varied exploration of the medium of painting, often incorporating and exploring the visual effects of photography. “I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings,” he says. “Because style is violent, and I am not violent.” In the early 1960s, Richter began to create large-scale photorealist copies of black-and-white photographs rendered in a range of grays, and innovated a blurred effect (sometimes deemed “photographic impressionism”) in which portions of his compositions appear smeared or softened—paradoxically reproducing photographic effects and revealing his painterly hand. With heavily textured abstract gray monochromes, Richter introduced abstraction into his practice, and he has continued to move freely between figuration and abstraction, producing geometric “Colour Charts”, bold, gestural abstractions, and “Photo Paintings” of anything from nudes, flowers, and cars to landscapes, architecture, and scenes from Nazi history. Richter absorbed a range of influences, from Caspar David Friedrich and Roy Lichtenstein to Art Informel and Fluxus.

German, b. 1932, Dresden, Germany, based in Cologne, Germany