"Art is never just content but always form." For the first time, Gerhard Richter gives a detailed insight into the origins of his famous 1260 Farbfelder (1260 color fields).

He left the color composition to coincidence - as a provocation against the color cult of a Josef Albers or Max Bill.

In conversation with Stefan Koldehoff, Gerhard Richter at last provides precise insight into the context in which he created his famous 1260 Farbfelder (1260 color fields).

Mr. Richter, do you still recall why the board with the pattern composed of triple digits was created more than forty years ago?

It was a prototype for the printer that produced the series of 1260 Farbfelder prints. After all, I can mix the colors myself for a painting. For a print, the colors are mixed in the printing press, and this board was needed for that.

… upon which every number represents a color.

Exactly. The colors for the paintings were the basic colors of yellow, blue, and red, out of which all of the fields were created, each one with a different ratio. The number 175 stands for one part yellow, seven parts blue, and five parts red.

And the order of the colors mixed in this way then randomly determined the painting?

I drew lots. All of the colors were written down on bits of paper and thrown into a pot; then they were drawn, and noted down on these cards. Sometimes I also used the kinds of little plastic plates that children play with. And sometimes a bucket full of ping-pong balls. When a painting was finally put together, the numbers went back into the pot, and then new picks were made.

And the little check marks above the numbers were made by the printer, when a color ran out?

Probably. It was so long ago ...

But the first color field paintings, from 1966, were even more random.

Those were based on paint color cards, which I found in a store and reproduced. That was very much influenced by Pop Art. Afterward, though, I looked for and found a system rather quickly. Also as a reaction to the fact that abstract art in those days was celebrated almost like a religion. The color field paintings were always meant to be polemic: an answer to this sectarian assumption that certain colors look better next to others. It was a little bit against Josef Albers and Max Bill and Richard Lohse. Lohse also noticed that. At a dinner during the Venice Biennial he jokingly wagged a finger at me and said, “I know exactly what you meant by that.”

How important is preparation, planning, to your work?

The colors are very deliberately arranged in an unplanned manner, according to the principle of randomness. I wanted to achieve a detached effect, in opposition to these odd theories that try to ascribe a function to colors. But, of course, I had to find a good form for that: how big should the pictures be? What kinds of proportions could the fields themselves have—in relation to each other, as well as in relation to the size of the painting? How wide would the strips in between have to be? Naturally, all of that was thought out, planned. Art is, after all, never just content; it’s also always form.

Thirty-three years later you used this system again, for your glass windows in Cologne Cathedral.

Yes, but it wasn’t exactly the same. For the cathedral windows, I actually laid out a reproduction of the 4096 Farben behind a plan of the tracery. After all, in this painting the color squares abut each other directly. That was the foundation upon which the rest of the work was based. However, unlike the paintings from the 1970s, this work included individual corrections to coincidence, when, for example, there was a danger that something figurative might be recognized somewhere. Or when an area was too warm or too cold. It was supposed to remain neutral, after all. And there are reflections and repetitions. But you have to find them, first.

Now that this board is being auctioned, your work method has gone public. Is that a problem?

No, not at all. The way that the color field paintings were made isn’t really a secret. The only bad sign would be if it were too expensive. It’s just a document, after all, not an autonomous work of art.

Stefan Koldehoff conducted the interview for Das Journal, a magazine from the Villa Grisebach, which Florian Illies has been publishing for six years to accompany current auctions. The portrait of Gerhard Richter in his studio in Cologne was done by Dirk Gebhardt—many thanks!

In April 2017 the second volume of Dietmar Elger’s six-volume catalogue raisonné of Richter’s work will be released. It features Richter’s artworks from the years 1968 to 1976, including the color field art.

Veröffentlicht am: 19.05.2023