Do you rate your work on paper as highly as the paintings?
Well, to be honest I must say it took a long time. It's only since 1976 that I have allowed myself to do that sort of small work. Before I insisted that I should be able to theoretically justify everything I did. That theory wasn't entirely correct, but I did often believe in it. Drawing or painting on paper is more impulsive than painting on canvas. It doesn't take so much effort, and you can simply throw away anything you don't like, whereas large canvases take much more effort and time. I found that the directness of the works on paper led to randomness and virtuosity. I didn't want any of that.
As the self-portrait shows, the first watercolours were created during the time in Dresden?
That was before the Academy, when I was 17. At the time I worked a lot in watercolours, but then, at the Academy, drawing and oil-painting were taught, not watercolouring. I also can't remember that anyone at all did watercolours.
Was the watercolour regarded as inferior?
It didn't belong to the classic course of study. One drew with charcoal and pencil; afterwards one painted in oil – smaller oil sketches, larger oil studies, finally the oil paintings themselves.
At the end of 1977 and the beginning of 1978, the first series of watercolours came about. Was there an external reason why you now devoted yourself more intensely to this technique?
It was the most suitable, and the excuse for two weeks of vacation in Davos. Small watercolours are easy to do in a hotel room.
As a matter of fact, it was only through the dealer Fred Jahn that I succeeded in overcoming my reservation about the works on paper and exhibiting them. Added to this, of course, was the fact that after ten years I could see the watercolours in a different light, and in conjunction with pictures painted afterwards, they had at least become more comprehensible to me.
Painting pictures is simply the official, the daily work, the profession, and in the case of the watercolours I can sooner afford to follow my mood, my spirits.
Most of the watercolours carry a date which replaces the title but which does not necessarily correspond to the date of production.
The year is always correct, also the month, only the day can be another. But that occurs to me only in the moment of writing it down.
Among the watercolours there are scarcely any representational ones painted from photographs or other models.
Because it is more exciting with the abstract ones, and it goes faster. It has an effect similar to my earlier enthusiasm for developing photos in the darkroom. Something is created there all by itself, which one only has to observe in order to intervene at the right moment – in that case, to stop it. Here, then, it's more a question of being able to decide than of actually making something.
For the first time, a comprehensive collection of your sketches is being shown, in Winterthur, accompanied by a catalogue of these works. Before this, I rarely came across any Richter sketches.
Me neither. Unlike the photography and prints, I never catalogued, kept track of or exhibited the sketches. I sold some occasionally, but never saw myself as a graphic artist. They became more important to me thanks to the exhibition, however, and I realized that these drawings were quite interesting after all.