Daniel Richter paints for a slow burn in his new show wild thing at Regen Projects. Initially, these newest canvases, big and bright though they are, can be off-putting. They don’t ask for attention, they demand it. Areas of masterly control are contradicted by casual gestures. Soft, sophisticated colors struggle against swatches of vulgar, unblended hues. Loosely suggested figures tussel in violent or sexual conquest in most of the paintings yet three seductive abstractions cool the heated ambience. But wait. Even they can be seen as aerial maps of nations with tragically interlocked borders, shapes that thrust or receive thrusting.
The Berlin-based artist is successor to post-war German artists from Sigmar Polke to Albert Oehlen, painters who reclaimed art historical methods while rejecting their previously defined meanings. Instead of an individual style honed over the years, they mixed it up, with expressionist brushstrokes alongside pop culture graphics and any number of other sources. For Richter, “painting is a form of thinking.”
In the past, Richter has pursued abstract landscapes and drawn from psychedelic patterns, German romanticism, rock music and pornography. The latest paintings are less congested with surface detail and more open in their swathes of color. Richter lays horizonal bands of thin color across the backgrounds, referencing both sublime minimalism and a digital pattern of clean repetition. The figures are superimposed as though imported from another body of work. It’s possible to glean a sense of the artist preventing himself from pursuing any solution in paint that came to him easily. His decision to work with a palette knife and not with his usual brush forced him out of old habits. He also blended his colors with white for the first time, to give them a synthetic tenor, and then drew on top of the paint with chalk.
In this exhibition, much of which was previously shown at Schirn Kunstalle in Frankfurt, Richter is asking himself how he can push the boundaries of what he can accomplish in paint. We get to ponder and even enjoy his answers. The show is on view through Aug. 20.