I walk through the galleries at Tate Modern, and through the window, I find a rectangular slice of London; grey river, grey sky. The principal colour of this city. I am wearing a grey jacket, grey skirt, which recalls the school uniform of my childhood, and I can almost feel charcoal wool chafing my skin. On the walls are paintings by Gerhard Richter, which resemble the sort of photos you might discover in an ancient dusty album – monochrome and blurred, but blown large, projected, distorted (as memory is, by necessity). Richter is the painter of ‘damaged landscapes’ (Dresden bombed) and figures in those landscapes who are obscured by time, by newspaper half tone (the funeral cortege of the Baader Meinhof gang). The alps are obscured in a heavy mist, for as Richter says, nature is always against us. His is the century of the photograph, as a way of conveying (catastrophic) news, capturing a face (like a rose pressed in a book). He finds a photograph, makes a painting of it that in turn, looks like a photograph, and in that act he is saying something about filters. We see the world through a camera lense, and so there is always the lense between the real and how the real is fixed. Richter stacks layers of glass in the gallery and through them the Thames fractures, a river of ice. I find myself in his mirrors, a study in grey. Richter says: Grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, absence of opinion, absence of shape.
And so we head into winter, the grey season. The clocks go back this week, and then we will be plunged into black. So maybe it is best to remember what Richter’s compatriot Goethe said: All theory, dear friend, is grey, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.