Family photos, pictures of groups, those are truely wonderful. And they are just as good as the old masters, just as rich and just as beautifully composed (what does that mean anyway).
Gerhard Richter: Images of an Era, Hirmer Publishers Munich, 2011, p. 59
Did the formal meaning of the term 'portrait' play an important role in the creation of your portraits? Did you analyze the traditional concept of portraits, or are such considerations of secondary importance when it comes to your motifs?
I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with terms like these. That's not something I can answer. But, of course, portraits play a major role. I always aspire to paint good portraits, but I can't do that any more. I'm much more concerned with painting beautiful pictures.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 318
Have you ever painted commissioned portraits?
Yes, in the 1960s. The portraits of Wachenfeld [CR: 104-3], Dwinger [CR: 103], Wasmuth [CR: 104-2], Schniewind [CR: 42, 42/1-2] and Schmela [CR: 37/1-3], for example, were commissioned works. Somehow, this way of doing things was typical in the 1960s. And that suited me very well, because it enabled me to bracket out my personal artistic preferences and allow these paintings to become products of chance. Eventually, however, I lost interest in working that way. Nowadays, no one approaches me with requests like these, because they all know: Richter doesn't do portraits on commission any more.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 319
[…] the paintings Uncle Rudi CR: 85], Mann mit Hund [CR: 94] and 48 Portraits [CR: 324] show the loss of a father figure – the photograph of the lost, small and beaming uncle as an officer; the strange snapshot of your father, who almost comes across as a clown; and the intimidating encyclopedia portraits of various male role models. They all pertain to the image of the lost father.
Yes, absolutely, and I have even less difficulty admitting to it since it's the experience of an entire generation, the postwar generation, or even two generations that lost their fathers for all sorts of reasons – some literally, who had fallen in the war; and then there were the others, the broken, the humiliated, the ones that returned physically or mentally damaged; and then those fathers that were actually guilty of crimes. Those are three types of fathers you don't want to have. Every child wants a father to be proud of.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, pp. 442/443
How do you view the paintings you have made of women?
Well, I did notice again, just recently, looking at all the combined paintings of women in the New York exhibition, that I was surprised at how contradictory the images were. There are the images of idealized women, starting with the Ema nude [CR: 134], where she really seems to be descending the stairs like an angel coming down from heaven. Then there's the painting of the daughter [CR: 663-5], which is also an idealization since its essence is a longing for culture, for the beauty in art which we no longer have, which is why she turns away. Then we have the Lesende [Reading Woman] [CR: 804], which is also an idealized image because she is so taken by Vermeer, the artist-god, that she tries to represent a similar beauty. Who knows, maybe those are desired ideals. And then there's the other side, the victims. The black-and-white paintings of women have more to do with their everyday lives, which only attract attention when something untoward happens to them – when they become victims, like the eight student nurses [CR: 130], and others. The Isa paintings [CR: 790-4,790-5] were based on photographs I took. And I never painted my mother as such; there's only a family portrait [CR: 30] in which she appears.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 443
Today we know that many of your portraits are of members of your family, and we know their history. Take the painting of your aunt Marianne [CR: 87], for instance, who was killed in February 1945, or your uncle Rudi [CR: 85], wearing a Wehrmacht uniform. Why were the biographical references in your paintings ignored for so long?
I had no desire for people to discuss these matters. I wanted them to see the paintings, not the painter and his relatives, otherwise they would have somehow given me a label, reached a premature conclusion. In truth, factual information – names or dates – have never interested me much. Those things are like an alien language that can interfere with the language of the painting, or even prevent its emergence. You can compare it to dreams: you have a very specific and individual pictorial language that you either accept or that you can translate rashly and wrongly. Of course, you can ignore dreams, but that would be a shame, because they're useful.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 500
It's clear that you've always painted, and still paint, members of your family. Is this a way to help you cope with problems?
Only about one per cent of my paintings show family members. Do they help me deal with problems? It's likely that these problems can only be depicted. But photographs, private ones and others, keep appearing that fascinate me so much that I want to paint them. And sometimes the real meaning these images have for me only becomes apparent later.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 501