The idea for the film developed during my previous work documenting the creation of Richter’s stained glass window for the Cologne Cathedral. It was the first time he had participated in a film project in 15 years; when it comes to expressing himself in words, he prefers written ones.
It became clear to me that a film about a painter must focus on painting. It was the actual work in the artist’s studio that interested me most: the authentic and immediate process of putting paint to canvas, and the instruments, gestures, and movements involved, emotionally as well as physically.
“Painting is a secretive business,” he told us at the start of filming. Except when creating very large pictures, he always works alone — which made me question if he would be able to cope with a small film team in his inner work sanctum for weeks and months on end. My task was to establish a mental and emotional space that would allow us to co-exist in the uncluttered studio, each pursuing his work unhindered: Richter painting and our team filming.
The main shooting period between April and September 2009 was an exceptional stroke of luck, as well as a process punctuated by the occasional crisis. A fundamental skepticism of the status quo is both inherent to Richter’s worldview and a key element of his painting technique: the giant squeegee he uses to apply and scrape off each monochromatic layer of paint becomes an instrument of assertion as well as doubt in his hands. And as we watched the painter at work, we too became caught up in the tension and dynamics of the process, as we saw pictures emerge and then often disappear. Like the paintings themselves, we had to withstand the artist’s skepticism.
Corinna Belz, June 2011