Disorienting is how I would characterize the latest main exhibition at Camden Arts Centre. The works of German artist Daniel Richter are displayed, highlighting a selection of his paintings spanning the years 1997 to 2016. The compilation is unsettling, perhaps due to the frequent shift in the paintings’ nature. Not set in chronological order, the art works unveil the technical experimentations as well as the artist’s emotional fluctuations.
If Richter’s paintings denote chaos and instability, they also convey denunciations and claims not always explicitly translated. The surface of the canvases is beautifully executed, at times in an abstract manner, at other times with a figurative approach, and sometimes with both, but all of them breathe the heavy breath of anxiety (1001 Nacht). It’s a fear which doesn’t seem to come from within but rather is triggered by social events, an unbearable political situation, or an external trauma. The colours employed are bright and even when the use of darker colours becomes necessary, the rendering is never opaque (Winterreise 4, and Tarifa). Shadows and contrasts cooperate within the same surface to shock and provoke a reaction.
The artist’s characters are silhouettes, oftentimes appearing like shadows from afar, dressed up in psychedelic garments which seem to soften the violence of the depicted set-up. As one of the viewers, I am invited to observe the entire landscape, or take a peek from an imaginary window. Richter sets the rules and seems unapologetic about how the paintings are received. With such strong pictorial statements, why would he care? The brushstrokes seem to be his megaphone and the viewers his crowd.
Instability is captured in an emulsion of revolt, expressed through a kaleidoscope of colours and extremely precise fine brushstrokes. I am adamant that it would be a shame to overlook the work for just being a rebellious means of expression, when in fact, if I step away, I can drift off from the original content and wander to other horizons. That is how I end the exhibition when facing Havana and end up being swathed in a dolce swirl in a tropical landscape.
Daniel Richter at Camden Arts Centre (2 July – 17 September 2017)