A survey of work by the hugely influential German painter, whose works veer between bright, colourful abstraction and narrative scenes.
If you’re thinking: What’s this, an exhibition by Richter, the great German abstractionist? Calm down – because this is the other Richter (Daniel), another popular German painter who, like Gerhard, creates big, bombastic works that don’t subscribe to a cohesive style. But a surname and a disdain for convention is about all they share.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Richter designed record sleeves for punk bands, soaking up Hamburg squat culture and the Antifa (anti-fascist) political scene. By the ’90s, he’d moved into fine art and studio solitude, which might explain why there’s a touch of the retired anarchist here. The show takes its name from a faceless portrait of a crestfallen punk in a circular window, surrounded by open beer cans, ‘Fuck the police’ studded on his leather jacket. The message is so on the nose it leaves you cross-eyed, but it captures this poignant figure so well: the burnt-out rebel, too dejected to keep up the cause.
Camden Arts Centre opens with Richter’s big hitters, such as ‘Tuanus’ (2000), an operatic forest scene of a drug stop-and-search by Frankfurt police. Here, hot oranges crowd his canvas in a garish blur, as though he’s attacked old photos with a blowtorch.
There are moments of abject horror, like the dark, spectral ‘Tarifa’ in which a nebulous background frames decoratively painted figures huddled on a dinghy. It’s inspired by the migrant crises in Lampedusa, and shares the disturbing infrared look of Richard Mosse’s thermal photography.
The show closes with an abrupt shift into abstracted internet porn images, where electric tones are slathered on to the canvas in the vein of Willem de Kooning. Distorted Bacon-like faces make an appearance through chalky lines and Richter doesn’t shy away from the influence. He’s even named one after him: ‘Francis, the Cheerful’.
The mocking tone and breathless pace of the work keeps you hooked, but it’s not as transgressive as it wants to be. It’s presented as a menacing kick against painting convention but feels like a deflated punk on a window sill, surrounded by empty beer cans.