Gerhard Richter is one of the foremost painters in postwar European art. Alternating between figurative and abstract approaches, his work intentionally defies stylistic categorization. He was first recognized in the early 1960s as co–founder, with Sigmar Polke and others, of Capitalist Realism, a group dedicated to the objective depiction of society in an increasingly commodity–oriented Germany. Photography was central to Richter's pictorial documentation and his rejection of the Expressionist painting popular at the time. In 1962 he began making paintings directly after photographs, family snapshots, or newspaper illustrations, aligning himself with a European manifestation of Pop art. But by constantly questioning modes of perception and artistic representation, he has given his work an element of Conceptual art as well.
Richter began making prints in 1965 and has completed more than one hundred to date; he was most active before 1974, completing projects only sporadically since that time. He has explored a variety of photographic printmaking processes—screenprint, photolithography, and collotype—in search of inexpensive mediums that would lend a "non-art" appearance to his work. Although interested in the wide dissemination of imagery that printmaking offers, he has avoided the collaborative workshop prerequisites of the more traditional techniques.
These three prints reveal the political undertones common in Richter's work of the late 1960s. His imagery of fighter planes reflects the World War II bombing of his native Dresden as well as the hotly debated topic of German rearmament raging in the national press at the time. The work's off–register printing simulates the hazy afterimage of mass–produced newspaper illustrations while also emphasizing the planes' sonic speed. Portraiture has also been an important genre for Richter, with Mao and Elisabeth II among the most haunting examples from this period. The ghostlike heads bleed off the sheets, fusing an aura of power and inaccessibility with a posterlike immediacy.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Wendy Weitman, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 180.