When we describe a process, or make out an invoice, or photograph a tree, we create models; without them we would know nothing of reality and would be animals. Abstract pictures are fictive models, because they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate.
Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God.
When I paint an abstract picture (the problem is very much the same in other cases), I neither know in advance what it is meant to look like nor, during the painting process, what I am aiming at and what to do about getting there. Painting is consequently an almost blind, desperate effort, like that of a person abandoned, helpless, in totally incomprehensible surroundings – like that of a person who possesses a given set of tools, materials and abilities and has the urgent desire to build something useful which is not allowed to be a house or a chair or anything else that has a name; who therefore hacks away in the vague hope that by working in a proper, professional way he will ultimately turn out something proper and meaningful.
The abstract pictures are no less arbitrary than all object-bound representations (based on any old motif, which is supposed to turn into a picture). The only difference is that in these the 'motif' evolves only during the process of painting. So they imply that I do not know what I want to represent, or how to begin; that I have only highly imprecise and invariably false ideas of the motif that I am to make into a picture; and therefore that – motivated as I am solely by ignorance and frivolity – I am in a position to start. (The 'solely' stands for life!)
Sometimes your abstract paintings give the impression of a landscape. Are you looking for realism again in abstraction?
I believe I am looking for rightness. My work has so much to do with reality that I wanted to have a corresponding rightness. That excludes painting in imitation. In nature everything is always right: the structure is right, the proportions are good, the colours fit the forms. If you imitate that in painting, it becomes false.
In 1976 you began to paint abstract pictures, because you wanted something that you couldn't visualize in advance. In doing so, you invented a method that was absolutely new to you. Was that an experiment of some kind?
Yes. I began in 1976, with small abstract paintings that allowed me to do what I had never let myself do: put something down at random. And then, of course, I realized that it never can be random. It was all a way of opening a door for me. If I don't know what's coming – that is, if I have no hard-and-fast image, as I have with a photographic original – then arbitrary choice and chance play an important part.
Since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth. We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.
Theory has nothing to do with a work of art. Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures. A picture presents itself as the Unmanageable, the Illogical, the Meaningless. It demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects; it takes away our certainty, because it deprives a thing of its meaning and its name. It shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view.
Art is not a substitute religion: it is a religion (in the true sense of the word: 'binding back', 'binding' to the unknowable, transcending reason, transcendent being). But the church is no longer adequate as a means of affording experience of the transcendental, and of making religion real – and so art has been transformed from a means into the sole provider of religion: which means religion itself.
Now there are no priests or philosophers left, artists are the most important people in the world.
How do you interpret your role as a painter in our society?
As a role that everyone has. I would like to try to understand what is. We know very little, and I am trying to do it by creating analogies. Almost every work of art is an analogy. When I make a representation of something, this too is an analogy to what exists; I make an effort to get a grip on the thing by depicting it. I prefer to steer clear of anything aesthetic, so as not to set obstacles in my own way and not to have the problem of people saying: 'Ah, yes, that's how he sees the world, that's his interpretation.'
Art is the highest form of hope.
Other people did, however, try to tie a label on you. 'Capitalist Realism' was one catchphrase that stuck. And it was actually coined by you in the first place.
Yes, we were amazed when that happened. It was a real joke to us. Konrad Lueg and I did a Happening, and we used the phrase just for the Happening, to have a catchy name for it; and then it immediately got taken up and brought into use. There's no defence against that – and really it's no bad thing.
Could you tell me a little about your Manifesto of Capitalist Realism?
That was a piece I did in 1963 with Konrad Lueg in a department store, in the furniture department. It was announced in some papers as an exhibition opening, but the people who came didn't know that it was to be a sort of Happening. I don't think it is quite right that it has become so famous anyhow. It was just a lot of fun, and the word itself, Capitalist Realism, hit just right. But it wasn't such a big deal.
I originally came from Dresden, where Socialist Realism prevailed. Konrad Lueg and I came up with it, for the most part ironically, since I now live in capitalism. It was certainly 'realism', but in another form – the capitalist form, as it were. It wasn't meant that seriously. It was more a slogan for that particular Happening at a furniture store.
Art is the pure realization of religious feeling, capacity for faith, longing for God. […] The ability to believe is our outstanding quality, and only art adequately translates it into reality. But when we assuage our need for faith with an ideology we court disaster.
What does the word 'Informel' mean to you today?
As I see it, all of them – Tachists, Action Painters, Informel artists, and the rest – are only part of an Informel movement that covers a lot of other things as well. I think there's an Informel element in Beuys, as well; but it all began with Duchamp and chance, or with Mondrian, or with the Impressionists. The Informel is the opposite of the constructional quality of classicism – the age of kings, or clearly formed hierarchies.
So in this context you still see yourself as an Informel artist?
Yes, in principle. The age of the Informel has hardly begun yet.
In general, American Pop Art concentrated on public imagery and commercial culture. But previously you told me that as German Pop artists Polke, Lueg and you wanted to represent a broader experience, a wider view of reality. I wondered if you could say something more about this larger vision in relation to the focus of American Pop Art?
Maybe we didn't even have a chance. The message of American Pop Art was so powerful and so optimistic. But it was also very limited, and that led us to believe that we could somehow distance ourselves from it and communicate a different intention.
So, where does that difference lie?
It was not possible for us to produce the same optimism and the same kind of humour or irony. Actually, it was not irony. Lichtenstein is not ironic but he does have a special kind of humour. That's how I could describe it: humour and optimism. For Polke and me, everything was more fragmented. But how it was broken up is hard to describe.
A student researching into my work has actually traced the newspapers and magazines where I found theses images and has found out that many of them illustrate a collection of gruesome stories, murders and suicides which contrast with the images used. There is a contrast between the message carried by the text and that suppressed by the illustration.
But my motivation was more a matter of wanting to create order – to keep track of things. All those boxes full of photographs and sketches weigh you down, because they have something unfinished, incomplete, about them. So it's better to present the usable material in an orderly fashion and throw the other stuff away. That's how the Atlas came to be, and I exhibited it a few times.
The Atlas belongs to the Lenbachhaus in Munich – it's long since ceased to belong to me. Occasionally I run across it somewhere, and I think it's interesting because it looks different each time.
Flicking through the Atlas one can see that you really have painted less from photographs during the last few years. Have your selection criteria become more rigid?
Maybe that, too, but it's generally related to the fact that I've been taking far more photographs during these years, so I wouldn't even be able to consider painting them all. So the Atlas was also a means of collecting the pictures, like in a diary – a way to sort them, put them away.
The first colour charts were unsystematic. They were based directly on commercial colour samples. They were still related to Pop Art. In the canvases that followed, the colours were chosen arbitrarily and drawn by chance. Then, 180 tones were mixed according to a given system and drawn by chance to make four variations of 180 tones. But after that the number 180 seemed too arbitrary to me, so I developed a system based on a number of rigorously defined tones and proportions.
Based on mixtures of the three primary colours, along with black and white, I come up with a certain number of possible colours and, by multiplying these by two or four, I obtain a definite number of colour fields that I multiply yet again by two, etc. But the complete realization of this project demands a great deal of time and work.
1,024 Colours in 4 Permutations
In order to represent all extant colour shades in one painting, I worked out a system which – starting from the three primaries, plus grey – made possible a continual subdivision (differentiation) through equal gradations. 4 x 4 = 16 x 4 = 64 x 4 = 256 x 4 = 1,024. The multiplier 4 was necessary because I wanted to keep the image size, the square size and the number of squares in a constant proportion to each other. To use more than 1,024 tones (4,096, for instance) seemed pointless, since the difference between one shade and the next would no longer have been detectable.
The arrangement of the colours on the squares was done by a random process, to obtain a diffuse, undifferentiated overall effect, combined with stimulating detail. The rigid grid precludes the generation of figurations, although with an effort these can be detected. This aspect of artificial naturalism fascinates me – as does the fact that, if I had painted all the possible permutations, light would have taken more than 400 billion years to travel from the first painting to the last. I wanted to paint four large, colourful pictures.
So, in 1966, when you started to paint non-figurative pictures, colours charts, did that also have something to do with a head-on confrontation with Minimal art? Was that another conflict situation, a rejection of American dominance, or was it through an evolutionary process of your own, rooted in the immediate, local context here in Düsseldorf? Was it through meeting Palermo, perhaps?
Yes, it certainly did have something to do with Palermo and his interests, and later with Minimal art as well; but when I painted my first colour charts in 1966, that had more to do with Pop Art. They were copies of paint sample cards, and what was effective about them was that they were directed against the efforts of the Neo-Constructivists, Albers and the rest.
I first came up with the idea for the colour-chart pictures back in 1966, and my preoccupation with the topic culminated in 1974 with a painting that consisted of 4,096 colour fields [CR: 359].
Initially I was attracted by the typical Pop Art aestheticism of using standard colour-sample cards; I preferred the unartistic, tasteful and secular illustration of the different tones to the paintings of Albers, Bill, Calderara, Lohse, etc.
A little later, I became more interested in the neutral and systematic categorization of the colours we can see and, in conjunction with that, their coincidental appearance within the painting. In this way, I could avoid creating a colour scheme, or any result that might be representational, and only had to determine the format of the painting, the proportions of the grid and the quality of the material. The paintings created in this manner tend towards total perfection and convey the idea of a practically endless number of possible pictures.
Turning to the colour-classification methodology:
The starting point are the four pure colours red, yellow, green and blue; their in-between shades and scales of brightness result in colour schemes containing 16, 64, 256 and 1,024 shades. More colours would be pointless because it wouldn't be possible to distinguish between them clearly.
When I first painted a number of canvases grey all over (about eight years ago), I did so because I did not know what to paint, or what there might be to paint: so wretched a start could lead to nothing meaningful. As time went on, however, I observed differences of quality among the grey surfaces – and also that these betrayed nothing of the destructive motivation that lay behind them. The pictures began to teach me. By generalizing a personal dilemma, they resolved it.
Grey. It makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible nor invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other colour has, to make 'nothing' visible.
To me, grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape. But grey, like formlessness and the rest, can be real only as an idea, and so all I can do is create a colour nuance that means grey but is not it. The painting is then a mixture of grey as a fiction and grey as a visible, designated area of colour.
And how does this concept of 'untouched' apply to your art?
That's an ideal case. The grey paintings, for example, a painted grey surface, completely monochromatic – they come from a motivation, or result from a state, that was very negative. It has a lot to do with hopelessness, depression and such things. But it has to be turned on its head in the end, and has to come to a form where these paintings possess beauty. And in this case, it's not a carefree beauty, but rather a serious one.
The paint for the grey paintings was mixed beforehand and then applied with different implements – sometimes a roller, sometimes a brush. It was only after painting them that I sometimes felt that the grey was not yet satisfactory and that another layer of paint was needed.
You've often painted grey pictures in the course of the decades. Can you say something about that?
Difficult topic. The grey is certainly inspired by the photo-paintings, and, of course, it's related to the fact that I think grey is an important colour – the ideal colour for indifference, fence-sitting, keeping quiet, despair. In other words, for states of being and situations that affect one, and for which one would like to find a visual expression.
Do you choose the photos for the landscape paintings at random or are these photos of specific places?
They are specific places I have discovered here and there when I am on the road to take photos. I go especially to take photos.
Of course, my landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all 'untruthful' (even if I did not always find a way of showing it); and by 'untruthful' I mean the glorifying way we look at nature – nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman.
What about the Alpine Pictures and the Townscapes?
Those were done when I no longer felt like doing the figurative photo-pictures, and wanted a change from the unequivocal statement, the legible and limited narrative. So I was attracted by those dead cities and Alps, which in both cases were stony wastes, arid stuff. It was an attempt to convey content of a more universal kind.
When I look back on the townscapes now, they do seem to me to recall certain images of the destruction of Dresden during the war.
Just about all the seascapes (many of which were included in the Atlas) depict collaged motifs. The sea and cloud sections came from different photographs then collaged together in a single image. The successful paintings were dependent on finding exactly the right mood between the combined images. There were also a couple of paintings, for example, where I used two halves of the same image of the sea [CR: 244, CR: 245]. Although I had a rather bad feeling about them, I was visited by George Maciunas, who thought they were absolutely wonderful and for that reason I allowed them to survive, despite feeling they were very decorative.
I find the Romantic period extraordinarily interesting. My landscapes have connections with Romanticism: at times I feel a real desire for, an attraction to, this period, and some of my pictures are a homage to Caspar David Friedrich.
In the early 1960s, having just come over from the GDR, I naturally declined to summon up any sympathy for the aims and methods of the Red Army Faction [RAF]. I was impressed by the terrorists' energy, their uncompromising determination and their absolute bravery; but I could not find it in my heart to condemn the State for its harsh response. That is what States are like; and I had known other, more ruthless ones. The deaths of the terrorists, and the related events both before and after, stand for a horror that distressed me and has haunted me as unfinished business ever since, despite all my efforts to suppress it.
These pictures possibly give rise to questions of political content or historical truth. Neither interests me in this instance. And although even my motivation for painting them is probably of no significance, I am trying to put a name to it here, as an articulation, parallel to the pictures, as it were, of my disquiet and of my opinion.
The political topicality of my October paintings means almost nothing to me, but in many reviews it is the first or only thing that arouses interest, and the response to the pictures varies according to current political circumstance. I find this rather a distraction.
I wanted to say something different: the pictures are also a leave-taking, in several respects. Factually: these specific persons are dead; as a general statement, death is leave-taking. And then ideologically: a leave-taking from a specific doctrine of salvation and, beyond that, from the illusion that unacceptable circumstances of life can be changed by this conventional expedient of violent struggle (this kind of revolutionary thought and action is futile and passé).
And then the work bears a strong sense of leave-taking for me personally. It ends the work I began in the 1960s (paintings from black-and-white photographs), with a compressed summation that precludes any possible continuation. And so it is a leave-taking from thoughts and feelings of my own on a very basic level. Not that this is a deliberate act, of course; it is a quasi-automatic sequence of disintegration and reformation which I can perceive, as always, only in retrospect.
Why did you decide to paint the Baader-Meinhof?
There was no special event that made me decide. I had collected some photos and the idea was in the back of my mind for a long time. It was growing and growing, so finally I said, 'I must paint this.' I come from East Germany and am not a Marxist, so of course at the time I had no sympathy for the ideas, or for the ideology that these people represented. I couldn't understand, but I was still impressed. Like everyone, I was touched. It was an exceptional moment for Germany.
In your paintings there is pity for the Baader-Meinhof.
There is sorrow, but I hope one can see that it is sorrow for the people who died so young and so crazy, for nothing. I have respect for them, but also for their wishes, or for the power of their wishes. Because they tried to change the stupid things in the world.
The ones that weren't paintable were the ones I did paint. The dead. To start with, I wanted more to paint the whole business, the world as it then was, the living reality – I was thinking in terms of something big and comprehensive. But then it all evolved quite differently, in the direction of death. And that's really not all that unpaintable. Far from it, in fact. Death and suffering have always been an artistic theme. Basically, it's the theme. We've eventually managed to wean ourselves away from it, with our nice, tidy lifestyle.
So you consider the RAF [Red Army Faction] dead as the victims of their own ideology?
Yes, certainly. Not the victims of any specific ideology of the left or of the right, but of the ideological posture as such. This has to do with the everlasting human dilemma in general: to work for a revolution and fail…
Those were press photos.
Yes, they were from the magazines Stern and Spiegel, and from books. You know, I had actually planned to make the whole thing broader, and then I surprised myself by reducing it to the dead, to the last moment. I was going to approach the topic far more comprehensively. I was going to paint things from their lives, from their active period, but it didn't work, so I gave up on the idea of painting that.
How do you see this particular American interest in the German RAF [Red Army Faction] and related topics, and, more generally, how do you rate the efficacy of political art in conservative America?
Because the Americans are far removed from the topic of the RAF, they probably relate to it in more general terms – in terms that are relevant to every modern or even unmodern country: the overall danger of ideological beliefs, fanaticism and mayhem. That's relevant in any country, including the US, which you rather sweepingly refer to as conservative. But I can also see another, more direct, link between America and the RAF – and I don't just mean the Vietnam war, which Baader and Ensslin protested against in 1968 by placing several incendiary devices in two department stores in Frankfurt. I also see a link in the fact that the attitudes and lifestyles of the so-called 1968 movement were strongly influenced by American ideals. Even the movement's inherent anti-Americanism wasn't simply a reaction against US hegemony, but was largely imported from America.
The reason these paintings are destined for New York is not because I am disappointed about a lack of German interest, but because MoMA asked me, and because I consider it to be the best museum in the world.
Contact with like-minded painters – a group means a great deal to me: nothing comes in isolation. We have worked out our ideas largely by talking them through. Shutting myself away in the country, for instance, would do nothing for me. One depends on one's surroundings. And so the exchange with other artists – and especially the collaboration with Lueg and Polke – matters a lot to me: it is part of the input that I need.
Pictures are the idea in visual or pictorial form; and the idea has to be legible, both in the individual picture and in the collective context – which presupposes, of course, that words are used to convey information about the idea and the context. However, none of this means that pictures function as illustrations of an idea: ultimately, they are the idea. Nor is the verbal formulation of the idea a translation of the visual: it simply bears a certain resemblance to the meaning of the idea. It is an interpretation, literally a reflection.
Of course I constantly despair at my own incapacity, at the impossibility of ever accomplishing anything, of painting a valid, true picture or even knowing what such a thing ought to look like. But then I always have the hope that, if I persevere, it might one day happen. And this hope is nurtured every time something appears, a scattered, partial, initial hint of something which reminds me of what I long for, or which conveys a hint of it – although often enough I have been fooled by a momentary glimpse that then vanishes, leaving behind only the usual thing.
I have no motif, only motivation. I believe that motivation is the real thing, the natural thing, and that the motif is old-fashioned, even reactionary (as stupid as the question about the Meaning of Life).
What part does chance play in your painting?
An essential one, as it always has. There have been times when this has worried me a great deal, and I've seen this reliance on chance as a shortcoming on my part.
Is this chance different from chance in Pollock? Or from Surrealist automatism?
Yes, it certainly is different. Above all, it's never blind chance: it's a chance that is always planned, but also always surprising. And I need it in order to carry on, in order to eradicate my mistakes, to destroy what I've worked out wrong, to introduce something different and disruptive. I'm often astonished to find how much better chance is than I am.
What is your understanding of the term 'beauty'?
It can be a work by Mondrian, a piece of music by Schönberg or Mozart, a painting by Leonardo, Barnett Newman or also Jackson Pollock. That's beautiful to me. But also nature. A person can be beautiful as well. And beauty is also defined as 'untouched'. Indeed, that's an ideal: that we humans are untouched and therefore beautiful.
What is then for you the reality and the truth in your paintings?
The truth… When they have a similar structure to and are organized in as truthful a way as nature. When I look out of the window, then truth for me is the way nature shows itself in its various tones, colours and proportions. That's a truth and has its own correctness. This little slice of nature, and in fact any given piece of nature, represents to me an ongoing challenge, and is a model for my paintings.
Nature/Structure. There is no more to say. In my pictures I reduce to that. But 'reduce' is the wrong word, because these are not simplifications. I can't verbalize what I am working on: to me, it is many-layered by definition; it is what is more important, what is more true.
Illusion – or rather appearance, semblance – is the theme of my life (could be theme of speech welcoming freshmen to the Academy). All that is, seems, and is visible to us because we perceive it by the reflected light of semblance. Nothing else is visible.
How do you manage to direct chance in such a way that a highly specific picture with a specific statement comes out of it – because that is your stated intention, isn't it?
No, I don't have a specific picture in my mind's eye. I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture. Each picture has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic: it has to emerge as if inevitably. And by not planning the outcome, I hope to achieve the same coherence and objectivity that a random slice of nature (or a readymade) always possesses. Of course, this is also a method of bringing in unconscious processes, as far as possible. I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things that I can think out for myself.
You've said that in the 1960s you were very impressed by Cage's Lecture on Nothing, in which he at one point said: 'I have nothing to say and I am saying it.' How did you understand that paradox then, and how did you relate it to your own desire to avoid making big declarative statements in your own work?
I thought that this was born out of the same motivation that makes him use the notion of chance, which is that we can't know or say very much at all, in a very classical philosophical sense: 'I know that I don't know anything.'
Back then, when you talked about your use of photography as the source for paintings, the range of choices you had, and the disparateness of your selection, were you thinking of the apparent arbitrariness of Cage's procedures as a model?
Cage is much more disciplined. He made chance a method and used it in constructive ways; I never did that. Everything here is a little more chaotic.
Chaotic in a sense of more arbitrary or more chaotic in a sense of more intuitive?
Maybe more intuitive. I believe that he knew more what he was doing. I might be absolutely wrong about this, but that was my impression.
What do you understand by tradition, especially in the sense of knowing a tradition well enough to break with it? And when that happens, what is it that gets broken?
The urge to break with a tradition is only appropriate when you're dealing with an outdated, troublesome tradition: I never really thought about that because I take the old-fashioned approach of equating tradition with value (which may be a failing). But whatever the case, positive tradition can also provoke opposition if it's too powerful, too overwhelming, too demanding. That would basically be about the human side of wanting to hold your own.
When did you first use mirrors?
In 1981, I think, for the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf. Before that I designed a mirror room for Kasper König's Westkunst show, but it was never built. All that exists is the design – four mirrors for one room.
What attracted me about my mirrors was the idea of having nothing manipulated in them. A piece of bought mirror. Just hung there, without any addition, to operate immediately and directly. Even at the risk of being boring. Mere demonstration. The mirrors, and even more the Panes of Glass, were also certainly directed against Duchamp, against his Large Glass.
Over the years, glass has become increasingly important in your work. In 1967 you made your first glass object, the 4 Scheiben [4 Panes of Glass] [CR: 160]. What's the essence of your relationship to glass? You noted on a sketch: 'Glass – Symbol (see everything, understand nothing)'. The closest thing to the readymades are your mirrors. […] What do you see in the mirror?
Myself. But then I immediately see that it functions like a painting. Just more perfectly. And just like a painting, it shows something that isn't there – at least not there where we see it.
So the mirror would be the perfect artist?
Going through the many interviews that you have given, I noticed that the topic of architecture is almost never mentioned, which is strange because architecture has played a central role in your exhibitions, and you have had many conversations with architects over the years. And then there is also the architecture of your house that you designed yourself. […]
Architecture was, or is, a kind of hobby, an inclination I have to fiddling around and building things. Putting up shelves or cupboards, or making tools, or designing houses … it always has a functional or social motivation. If social changes are in the air, I am gripped immediately by the desire to build, and I think that I accelerate or anticipate changes in my life by doing so, at least in draft. In the case of my house, that was anticipation: in other words, first build, then change one's life.
Perhaps the Doors, Curtains, Surface Pictures, Panes of Glass, etc. are metaphors of despair, prompted by the dilemma that our sense of sight causes us to apprehend things, but at the same time restricts and partly precludes our apprehension of reality.
What made you choose a fifteenth-century painting as a model and create a sequence based on Titian's Annunciation [CR: 343/1-2, 344/1-3]?
Because there's something about this painting, or any painting, that grabs me if they're good – irrespective of the impact they had at the time, why they were made, the story behind them. I don't know what motivated the artist, which means that the paintings have an intrinsic quality. I think Goethe called it the 'essential dimension', the thing that makes great works of art great.
If the abstract paintings show my reality, then the landscapes and still-lifes show my yearning.
Of course, pictures of objects also have this transcendental side to them. Every object, being part of an ultimately incomprehensible world, also embodies that world; when represented in a picture, the object conveys this mystery all the more powerfully, the less of a 'function' the picture has. Hence, for instance, the growing fascination of many beautiful old portraits.
My pictures are devoid of objects; like objects, they are themselves objects. This means that they are devoid of content, significance or meaning, like objects or trees, animals, people or days, all of which are there without a reason, without a function and without a purpose. This is the quality that counts. (Even so, there are good and bad pictures.)
… landscapes or still-lifes I paint in between the abstract works; they constitute about one-tenth of my production. On the one hand they are useful, because I like to work from nature – although I do use a photograph – because I think that any detail from nature has a logic I would like to see in abstraction as well. On the other hand, painting from nature or painting still-lifes is a sort of diversion; creates balance. If I were to express it somewhat informally, I would say that the landscapes are a type of yearning, a yearning for a whole and simple life. A little nostalgic. The abstract works are my presence, my reality, my problems, my difficulties and contradictions. They are very topical for me.
I see the bomber pictures as an anti-war statement…
… which they aren't – at all. Pictures like that don't do anything to combat war. They only show one tiny aspect of the subject of war – maybe only my own childish feelings of fear and fascination with war and with weapons of that kind.
Were you influenced by Duchamp when you painted the pictures Woman Walking Downstairs (1965) [CR: 92] and Ema (1966) [CR: 134], and when you made the 4 Panes of Glass (1967) [CR: 160]?
I knew Duchamp's work, and there certainly was an influence. It may partly have been an unconscious antagonism – because his painting Nude Descending a Staircase rather irritated me. I thought very highly of it, but I could never accept that it had put paid, once and for all, to a certain kind of painting. So I did the opposite and painted a 'conventional nude'. But, as I said, it was an unconscious process, not a strategy. The same happened with the 4 Panes of Glass. I think something in Duchamp didn't suit me – all that mystery-mongering – and that's why I painted those simple glass panes and showed the whole windowpane problem in a completely different light.
How did this alternation between figurative and abstract work come about?
There's no precise reason. I started doing 'figures', then, one day, all of a sudden, I started doing abstraction. And then I started doing both. But it was never really a conscious decision. It was simply a question of desire. In fact, I really prefer making figurative work, but the figure is difficult. So to work around the difficulty I take a break and paint abstractly. Which I really like, by the way, because it allows me to make beautiful paintings.
How do you explain the difficulty you have with figurative work?
I can do abstract painting in an almost professional way. With the figure, on the other hand, it's impossible. Chance is precluded from it. You also need a particular condition and a particular angle – and you also have to be able to find them – because from the moment photography came into existence, it has precluded almost everything. Plus, when I'm painting a figure, I try to bring it to the canvas in the best way possible: it's not easy, but it is necessary, because what surrounds us is generally true, good and sometimes even beautiful. When those things are painted, we find ourselves de facto in the false. So they have to be 'pushed' to the point where they gain a beautiful appearance, to the point where we want to look at them. For that, they have to be as pitch-perfect as a song.
You have done every possible subject: still-lifes, landscapes, portraits, etc. Why?
Because they happen to surround us. We all need them. My method is related to an attempt to do something that might be understood by today's world, or that could at least provide understanding. In other words, doing something I understand and that everyone understands. This natural desire for communication is also found in other domains, like reading and discourse, etc. I also hate repeating myself; it gives me no pleasure whatsoever. Once I've understood something, I need to start off on new ground.
Talk about painting: there's no point. By conveying a thing through the medium of language, you change it. You construct qualities that can be said, and you leave out the ones that can't be said but are always the most important.
How did you come to adopt this objective way of painting?
I think everybody starts out by seeing a few works of art and wanting to do something like them. You want to understand what you see, what is there, and you try to make a picture out of it. Later you realize that you can't represent reality at all – that what you make represents nothing but itself, and therefore is itself reality.
One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is total idiocy.
Is speaking of the relationship between painting and reality a false problem in your eyes? Do you feel that painting has its own reality?
Experience has proved that there is no difference between a so-called realist painting – of a landscape, for example – and an abstract painting. They both have more or less the same effect on the observer.
I don't believe in the reality of painting, so I use different styles like clothes: it's a way to disguise myself.
Painting is the making of an analogy for something non-visual and incomprehensible – giving it form and bringing it within reach. And that is why good paintings are incomprehensible. Creating the incomprehensible has absolutely nothing to do with turning out any old bunkum, because bunkum is always comprehensible.
Painting concerns itself, as no other art does, exclusively with semblance (I include photography, of course).
The painter sees the semblance of things and repeats it. That is, without fabricating the things himself, he fabricates their semblance; and, if that no longer recalls any object, this artificially produced semblance functions only because it is scrutinized for likeness to a familiar – that is, object-related – semblance.
Painting is traditional but for me that doesn't mean the academy. I felt a need to paint; I love painting. It was something natural – as is listening to music or playing an instrument for some people. For this reason I searched for themes of my era and my generation. Photography offered this, so I chose it as a medium for painting.
But I have a problem with the term 'light'. I never in my life knew what to do with that. I know that people have mentioned on some occasions that 'Richter is all about light', and that 'the paintings have a special light', and I never knew what they were talking about. I was never interested in light. Light is there and you turn it on or you turn it off, with sun or without sun. I don't know what the 'problematic of light' is. I take it as a metaphor for a different quality, which is similarly difficult to describe. Good.
When I paint from a photograph, conscious thinking is eliminated. I don't know what I am doing. My work is far closer to the Informel than to any kind of 'realism'. The photograph has an abstraction of its own, which is not easy to see through.
As far as the surface is concerned – oil on canvas, conventionally applied – my pictures have little to do with the original photograph. They are totally painting (whatever that may mean). On the other hand, they are so like the photograph that the thing that distinguished the photograph from all other pictures remains intact.
You work from photographic originals. How do you find your subjects?
Perhaps the choice is a negative one, in that I was trying to avoid everything that touched on well-known issues – or any issues at all, whether painterly, social or aesthetic. I tried to find nothing too explicit, hence all the banal subjects; and then, again, I tried to avoid letting the banal turn into my issue and my trademark. So it's all evasive action, in a way.
Why do most of your paintings look like blurry photographs?
I've never found anything to be lacking in a blurry canvas. Quite the contrary: you can see many more things in it than in a sharply focused image. A landscape painted with exactness forces you to see a determined number of clearly differentiated trees, while in a blurry canvas you can perceive as many trees as you want. The painting is more open.
Did your earlier black-and-white paintings have a different quality for you, a different meaning than the colour ones? For example, was black and white a way of distancing yourself more, or was it a means for you to try to illustrate objectivity?
Basically it was just more unusual, back then, to create black-and-white oil paintings, and more real, because all the newspapers, the daily diet of photographic material, including television, was black and white, and the photo albums and photography itself – all of it was black and white, which is difficult to imagine these days. That's why it imbued a sense of reality into painting that represented something completely new. Looking at them now, the likeness to photography, the documentary quality, aren't as evident, because the paintings just seem like paintings. But black-and-white photography has managed to retain a unique quality; the F.A.Z. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] still uses black-and-white photographs, even if the majority would probably prefer them to be in colour.
The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its way of informing, and in what it informs of, it is my source.
Why is photography so important in your work?
Because I was surprised by photography, which we all use so massively every day. Suddenly, I saw it in a new way, as a picture that offered me a new view, free of all the conventional criteria I had always associated with art. It had no style, no composition, no judgment. It freed me from personal experience. For the first time, there was nothing to it: it was pure picture. That's why I wanted to have it, to show it – not use it as a means to painting but use painting as a means to photography.
Do you mistrust reality, because you base your pictures on photographs?
I don't mistrust reality, of which I know next to nothing. I mistrust the picture of reality conveyed to us by our senses, which is imperfect and circumscribed.
You said once that you use photographs because the camera sees more objectively than your own eye. You know the range of manipulations possible in photography – do you really mean, even so, to show an objective reality?
No. A work of art is itself an object, first of all, and so manipulation is unavoidable: it's a prerequisite. But I needed the greater objectivity of the photograph in order to correct my own way of seeing: for instance, if I draw an object from nature, I start to stylize and to change it in accordance with my personal vision and my training. But if I paint from a photograph, I can forget all the criteria that I get from these sources. I can paint against my will, as it were. And that, to me, felt like an enrichment.
I had always taken photographs and used several for pictures during the 1960s, although I began using my own much more in the late '60s. I mainly photographed objects, rarely taking portrait shots. The portraits I painted at this time were based on passport photographs, which I received and then turned into paintings. I began painting pictures of people with the painting Ema (Nude Descending a Staircase) [CR: 134]. The photographs I used mainly came from illustrated magazines and that was the simple reason why most of the pictures were black and white.
Photography has almost no reality; it is almost a hundred per cent picture. And painting always has reality: you can touch the paint; it has presence; but it always yields a picture – no matter whether good or bad. That's all the theory. It's no good. I once took some small photographs and then smeared them with paint. That partly resolved the problem, and it's really good – better than anything I could ever say on the subject.
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.
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.
[…] 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.
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.
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.
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.
Composition is a side issue. Its role in my selection of photographs is a negative one at best. By which I mean that the fascination of a photograph is not in its eccentric composition but in what it has to say: its information content. And, on the other hand, composition always also has its own fortuitous rightness.
I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings. (Because style is violent, and I am not violent.)
I don't create blurs. Blurring is not the most important thing; nor is it an identity tag for my pictures.
I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. I blur things so that they do not look artistic or craftsmanlike but technological, smooth and perfect. I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information.
In your pictures, does the blurring stand for the transitory nature of the content, or does it emphasize the content itself? Or is the effect of camera shake just typical of this particular mass medium in lay hands?
This superficial blurring has something to do with the incapacity I have just mentioned. I can make no statement about reality clearer than my own relationship to reality; and this has a great deal to do with imprecision, uncertainty, transience, incompleteness, or whatever. But this doesn't explain the pictures. At best it explains what led to their being painted.
In your early paintings and drawings you often smudged the contours. Was that an expression of the difficulty of making a precise statement?
Yes, that too. That was also an attempt at getting rid of the personal touch. I wanted to make it as anonymous as a photo. But it was perhaps also the wish for perfection, the unapproachable, which then means loss of immediacy. Something is missing then, though; that is why I gave that up.
How did you come up with the idea to paint these blurred photos?
I was a student, and as such you generally rely on prior models of how to make art, but these were not satisfying. Then I discovered in photos what had been missing in paintings; namely that they make a terrific variety of statements and have great substance. That is what I wanted to convey to paintings and apply to it.
On what basis do you choose your format?
I choose depending on the way I feel; randomly, in other words. When I haven't done anything for a long time, I always start small, on paper.
Chance as a theme and as method. A method of allowing something objective to come into being; a theme for creating a simile (picture) of our survival strategy:
(1) The living method, which not only processes conditions, qualities and events as they chance to happen, but exists solely as that non-static 'process', and in no other way.
(2) Ideological: denial of the planning, the opinion and the world-view whereby social projects, and subsequently 'big pictures', are created. So what I have often seen as a deficiency on my part – the fact that I've never been in a position to 'form a picture' of something – is not incapacity at all but an instinctive effort to get at a more modern truth: one that we are already living out in our lives (life is not what is said but the saying of it, not the picture but the picturing).
Your canvases always display perfect technique…
Unlike the period when one had to learn technique and train from the youngest age, today no one masters technique any more at all. Painting has become so easy – anyone can do it! – that it's often very bad. In this context, as soon as someone knows technique, it jumps out at the viewer. That said, for me technique is something obvious: it's never a problem. I've just remained extremely attached to a culture of painting. What's much more important to me is the attempt, the desire to show what I want, in the best way possible. That's why technique is useful for me. For me, perfection is as important as the image itself.
If, while I'm painting, I distort or destroy a motif, it is not a planned or conscious act, but rather it has a different justification: I see the motif, the way I painted it, is somehow ugly or unbearable. Then I try to follow my feelings and make it attractive. And that means a process of painting, changing or destroying – for however long it takes – until I think it has improved. And I don't demand an explanation from myself as to why this is so.
The smudging makes the paintings a bit more complete. When they're not blurred, so many details seem wrong, and the whole thing is wrong too. Then smudging can help make the painting invincible, surreal, more enigmatic – that's how easy it is.
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.
But it is also untrue that I have nothing specific in mind. As with my landscapes: I see countless landscapes, photograph barely 1 in 100,000, and paint barely 1 in 100 of those that I photograph. I am therefore seeking something quite specific; from this I conclude that I know what I want.
You sometimes describe yourself as a classical painter.
I'm never really sure what that word means, but however inaccurately I use it, 'classical' was always my ideal, as long as I can remember, and something of that has always stayed with me, to this day. Of course, there were difficulties, because in comparison to my ideal, I didn't even come close.
And what is it that connects Vermeer, Palladio, Bach, Cage?
It's that same quality I've been talking about. It's neither contrived, nor surprising and smart, not baffling, not witty, not interesting, not cynical, it can't be planned and it probably can't even be described. It's just good.
Do you often abandon abstract paintings?
Yes, I alter them much more often than the representational ones. They often turn out completely different to what I'd planned.
So you begin with an idea in your head about a feeling you want to create in a particular painting? How do you begin the abstract paintings?
Well, the beginning is actually quite easy, because I can still be quite free about the way I handle things – colours, shapes. And so a picture emerges that may look quite good for a while, so airy and colourful and new. But that will only last for a day at most, at which point it starts to look cheap and fake. And then the real work begins – changing, eradicating, starting again, and so on, until it's done.
If you don't believe in God, what do you believe in?
Well, in the first place, I believe that you always have to believe. It's the only way; after all we both believe that we will do this exhibition. But I can't believe in God, as such, he's either too big or too small for me, and always incomprehensible, unbelievable.
Are there subjects that you cannot paint?
Well, I don't believe there are subjects that can't be painted, but there are a lot of things that I personally can't paint.
What are you trying to achieve with these realistic images?
I'm trying to paint a picture of what I have seen and what moved me, as well as I can. That's all.
With a brush you have control. The paint goes on the brush and you make the mark. From experience you know exactly what will happen. With the squeegee you lose control.
Not all control, but some control. It depends on the angle, the pressure and the particular paint I am using.
This time the entire floor is covered with cut-up illustrated journals, a new tic and trick of mine (eight days now): I cut out photos from illustrated journals and dissolve them with a chemical solution and swipe and smear them. That is fabulous fun. I have always loved illustrated magazines, perhaps because of their documentary actuality. I have also already made a few attempts to paint something like that in a larger format. Curious to see how it will continue. I am pursuing something which in a certain way resembles the most recent movement: Pop art (from popular), probably came up in America and is now heating up the minds here.
I am primarily painting from photographs these days (from illustrated magazines but also from family photos), in a sense this is a stylistic problem, the form is naturalistic, even though the photograph is not nature at all but a prefabricated product (the “second-hand world” in which we live), I do not have to intervene artistically with style, since the stylization (deformation in form and color) contributes only under very particular circumstances toward clarifying and intensifying an object or a subject (generally stylization becomes the central problem which obscures everything else (object, subject), it leads to an unmotivated artificiality, an untouchable formalist taboo.
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).
But I would like to reach the point where I could cut up an illustrated magazine at random and see to it that the parts would each become a painting.
I cannot properly explain it right now. Already now I am searching for the most boring and irrelevant photo material that I can find. And I would like to get to the point soon where this determined irrelevance could be retained, in favor of something that would be covered up otherwise by artifice.
Yet today you would follow these interpretations of the meaning of your work with interest, and say that the motifs were chosen arbitrarily?
Everything has a reason, including the selection of the photos, which was not arbitrary but appropriate to the period, its highs and lows and my sense of them.
Your generation was influenced significantly by 1968, but that was not the case with you. Did that also have to do with the GDR?
That definitely had to do with the GDR. I didn't actually know what the protesters in the West really wanted. It was fantastic here, so much freedom, and that was what they were calling musty, middle-class, and fascistic, a bleak period. Bleak was what the GDR was, and it alone had adopted, almost unchanged, Nazi Germany's methods of intimidation and ideas about propaganda and the use of force.
Would it be fair to say that for you Fluxus triggered a kind of rebirth of painting?
Yes, extrinsically, but in terms of pictures it was Pop art with ist new picture motifs. But Fluxus introduced a further dimension, a sense of impropriety and lunacy. That was fascinating. Those actions in Aachen and Düsseldorf, by Cage, Paik, Beuys, and many others – I never experienced that again.
In 1963, you wrote to Helmut Heinze that you found the “emblematic images” of the time in the tabloids, that as an artist it was snobbish to reject such popular pictures. Did you want to make pictures people liked?
The desire to please is maligned, unfairly. There are many sides to it. First of all, pictures have to arouse interest before people will even look at them, and then they have to show something that holds that interest – and naturally they have to be presentable, just as a song has to be sung well, otherwise people run away. One mustn't underrate this quality, and I have always been delighted when my pieces have also appealed to the museum guards, the laymen.
Could you say something about how you selected the photos and how this compression of dates and events came about?
I remember that I felt I had to avoid all these sensational photos, the hanged woman, the man who shot himself, and so forth. I collected a great deal of material, including a number of banal, irrelevant photos, and then in the course of my work I came back to the very pictures I had actually wanted to avoid, which summed up the various stories.
Can you recall what it may have been that led you to it precisely in 1988, to muster the courage for the cycle?
A lot of different things had to come together over the years, accumulated experiences of a general and personal nature, before the idea and the decision were developed and then carried out.
And as for the RAF itself?
I was frightened by it, and I was amazed to see an incredible blindness there that exposed our cruelest and most vicious side. But the most frightening aspect for me was the sympathy accorded to these fanatics. That's just how we are –
In the beginning I tried to accommodate everything there that was somewhere between art and garbage and that somehow seemed important to me and a pity to throw away. After a while, some sheets in the Atlas acquired another value, after all – that is, it seemed to me that they could stand on their own terms, not only under the protection of the Atlas.
Pop art is neither an American invention nor an import, yet the terms and names were coined in the US, where they were popularised much faster than in Germany. This kind of art has evolved organically and independently over here, yet at the same time it becomes an analogy to American pop art due to certain psychological, cultural and economical preconditions that are the same in Germany as they are in the US. [...] For the first time we are showing paintings in Germany that relate to those terms, representing pop art, junk culture, imperial or capitalistic realism, new figuration, naturalism, German pop and other comparable terms.