31. July 2014

He is the punk among the painters, and he calls a spade a spade. He did not want a career, yet he carved one out anyway.

By Marthe Lisson

Once a punk, always a punk. Isn't that what they say? Daniel Richter is a punk, because anyone who spent time in the left-wing autonomous milieu in Hamburg's Hafenstrasse or designs album covers for the punk band Die Goldenen Zitronen has to know what his painting is about. And not only that. Richter is the owner of the punk, jazz, and hip-hop record label Buback, who produce Die Goldenen Zitronen and Jan Delay. Meanwhile in his fifties, while Richter's outer appearance may not be so punk (to the extent it ever was has to remain open here), his mindset still is.

This becomes apparent in particular in interviews. He always seems calm, cool, and nice, but calls a spade a spade. When he wants to call the Berlin University of the Arts a stupid-ass university, he does: "I've never worked at a more a stupid-ass university." In 2006, after just two years Richter vacated his C4 professorship there, one with the highest salary bracket and which his colleagues would have fought for. Why did he do it? "Due to stupidity. . . . A mixture of braggadocio and fustiness, pomposity and then somehow being nothing more than a pile of shit, between bureaucratic madness, bullying, wanting to lay down the law, back-door old-boy networks . . . ." That, too, is somehow punk.

Daniel Richter unites paradoxes, something he in part cannot help doing. An anti-Art-Basel artist if there ever was one, but whose art is dealt there of all places. That does not mix, but then it does not make much difference to him. Richter is glad that people discover art in the first place. He does not care how. "I don't even know why most artists even became artists." One point for Richter.

Born in Eutin, Schleswig-Holstein, in 1962, Richter studied at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg from 1991 to 1995. He was already in his thirties. At a certain point in his life he did not know what he should do. All he knew was that he did not want to carve out a career for himself. And now he finds it somewhat absurd hat he has become an acknowledged artist who never sees his pictures again after they have been shown once in a gallery and which are sold for six-figure sums at auctions. And that with a medium that is considered especially reactionary by left-wing critics.

You can see that his paintings were not produced in an ivory tower. They deal with conflicts, are political, are aggressive. Cultural pessimism meets dismal melancholy. Richter's pictures seem psychedelic, paranoid, surreal. His painting Tuanus, for example, which even makes local reference to Frankfurt. We see trees, at second glance people in between, leaning with their hands on the tree trunks. It looks like a crackdown, we can make out billy clubs.

"Tuanus" is naturally an anagram for "Taunus." This not only makes reference to the hills north of Frankfurt but to the conditions and the occurrences in the Taunusanlage in downtown Frankfurt in the late eighties and early nineties. During this period, up to 1,500 drug users assembled in the green belt at any given time. Today, the "Frankfurt Method" is considered exemplary in aiding drug addicts and implies a mixture of repression and support. However, this exemplary path was preceded by a period of police raids and expelling the drug users, which Richter has taken up in his painting. By alienating the word "Taunus" he furthermore elevates the depicted situation to a level situated somewhere between anonymous and universally valid.

Richter did not begin painting figuratively until shortly after the turn of the millennium. His pictorial scenarios are time and again reminiscent of hallucinations. When looking at the red figures in the painting An Army of Traitors it is if we were seeing them as if viewed through the lens of an infrared camera.

This also evokes conflict and wartime situations more than it does a peaceful walking tour. What initially suggests an ant colony in the distance is an army heading for the viewer. Yet we still cannot quite make out any persons. Are they bearing weapons or wearing capes? The artist leaves us in the dark about this procession of individuals, who are no longer perceived as individuals but rather as biological organisms.

Daniel Richter's painting naturally also includes punk motifs or slogans. In particular in "Fuck the Police"--a phrase that is meanwhile as politically obsolete and worthless as the face of Che Guevara, as the title of the painting, Lonely Old Slogan, suggests.