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Archive for June 2008

Neo Rauch

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Neo Rauch, Vater (Father), 2007, Oil on canvas

Neo Rauch is a painter I greatly admire.  It is with exuberant appreciation that I write a little blog entry about his exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery, which is due to come down June 21, 2008.  An on-line exhibit of his latest work can be found here.  It should be noted that all the works currently exhibited are from 2008, which shows a remarkable productivity on his part.

The interesting thing about Rauch’s work for me has always been that the paintings I created as an art student at the University of Southern Maine resembled Rauch’s work, even though I had never seen Rauch’s work before.  When I first saw his 1990s work I exclaimed “he’s copying my work – and doing it better than I did!”  Since that time I have followed Rauch’s career and the development of his work with admiration and an affinity for his paintings.  I feel as if I understand his paintings intuitively.   The image below is a painting of mine from 1989 (“The Funeral”, oil on canvas), well before I ever saw a Neo Rauch painting.

Wes Freese, “The Funeral”, Oil on Canvas, 1989

Reading the press release for his exhibit sounds familiar to me:  “Rauch does not rely on existing imagery or models for his paintings, and while some begin as tiny sketches, he works his imagined scenes directly onto the canvas.  He likens his process to reading a novel, with the paintings unfolding as surprisingly for their maker as for any viewer.  Springing from dreams and shaped by experience, both past and present, Rauch’s instinctive and automatic approach exceed straightforwardly Surrealist concerns and restrictive exercise” [italics mine].

A lot of people want to nail down an understanding about the narration in the allegorical stories he presents in his paintings, yet I rarely concern myself with that.  I couldn’t care less about what the symbols represent, or what the story is, or what the paintings mean, although his frequent preoccupation with productive, yet amnesiatic characters  is an entertaining storyline for me.  But, I’ve always examined Rauch’s paintings by paying attention to how the works were created, his playfulness with perspective and design, his seemingly endless reservoir of weird forms and architectural constructions in his paintings.  His colors are dark and have body to them – just my cup of tea.  I’ve always found the works charming because they often seem meaningless despite all the activity in them.  Rauch is a painter that seems to love the craft and act of painting, and has been quoted as saying “there’s a healing aspect in my art that is based on my command of painting, the professional use of color and technique.”

It’s rare that a painter gets better at his or her craft after a short period of success.  Usually an artist makes a big splash initially and then the quality of works degrades slowly over time.  Rauch has clearly devoted himself to the craft of painting over the years and his work has gotten better and better over time.  His paintings are highly sought after by collectors around the world, and are going for very high prices.  Due to the ever improving quality of his work, his exhibits are eagerly anticipated now, and his current exhibit at David Zwirner does not disappoint.  To look at his early work and then compare it to his current paintings is to see a vast development in painting skill and image making.  (Below is an early painting by Rauch.)

One of the secrets to his work, I believe, that makes them so appealing is his attention to details.  Each of his paintings seem to have a formula of coupling areas of generalized space or forms, with other areas populated by intricate, tender details of things one ordinarily wouldn’t pay attention to.  One such common detail in his work is the clothing that the characters wear in the paintings.  I’ve never read anywhere about this, but his attention to clothing is quite interesting.  In his painting Hatz (translated as “hunting”), Rauch depicts his characters dressed in green long tail sport coats and matching hats.   The clothing being worn by the characters defines the allegory of hunting in a leisurely, graceful, if not absurd, way.  If you haven’t noticed before, look at a few of his paintings and pay particular attention to the clothing and accouterments being worn by the characters.  It’s always gorgeously rendered by Rauch, and is an important decorative detail to the painting, in terms of giving his work a certain quirkiness that is the Rauch trademark.

Neo Rauch, “Hatz”, Oil on Linen, 2002

For further viewing, his “Para” exhibit from 2007 at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York can be viewed here.  I wish I had a website of his to direct to his entire portfolio.  He should get a website.

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Written by Wes Freese

June 19, 2008 at 2:55 am

Posted in Artists, Influences, Painting

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On Photography

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The photograph above is one I shot myself.  For me photography often informs and guides my paintings, either as sketches for my work, or they in one way or another serve as design studies for my paintings. Recently I’ve been experimenting with painting on photographs.  Photography and painting are interrelated to me.  But I’m an amateur photographer.  The photographers I’d like to share with you are really good and elevate photography to an art form.

First is David Maisel, who has a series of his photographs showing at Lens Culture, entitled “Oblivion”.  (Thanks to C-Monster for providing the link to the works.)  The works are majestic aerial photographs of Los Angeles.  In his works, patterns of meta-designs show how the vast city has engulfed the landscape.  There’s something organic about seeing the city from this far away in the photographs, reminding me of human cells, growing and multiplying.  Often times the imagery evokes what might be considered a cancer on the body of the earth, covering the natural landscape. 

According to Maisel, “in this series from Los Angeles, I am using images that underscore the cyborg nature of the city and its environs as a way to explore a kind of contemporary oblivion, a series of sites that are both place and non-place. Themes of development as a kind of self-generating, self-replicating force that exists outside of nature are encoded in these images, which view Los Angeles as both a specific site and as a more generalized condition.”

To me, there’s something eerily religious about these photographs, as if the photos were taken from God’s vantage point, a view larger than human beings should see from.  A truth comes into view from this vantage point, which obliterates the individual.  How many individual people’s hopes and dreams can you count in the image below?

Next up is Holly Andres’s thoroughly charming narrative photograph series entitled “Sparrow Lane”, being shown at Quality Pictures.  (Thanks to PORT for the link to the exhibit.)  Andres is an interdisciplinary artist, working in photography, film and installations, and she’s employing a large amount of skills from all concentrations in this wonderful body of work.  Andres holds an MFA from Portland State University and currently works in Portland, Oregon.  Remarkably, she studied painting early on as a student at the Art Institute of Seattle, and I can’t help thinking that much of what she learned about creating two-dimensional works in painting and the use of color informs her photographic work today.

According to Andres’s bio “the recurring themes in my work explore the experiences in my life that have impacted and constructed my identity.  I am interested in revisiting, recreating and preserving that history, but am especially fascinated with the interweaving of fact and fiction, and finding a place in which autobiography and fictitious narration come together.”  Many times artist statements end up being gibberish and bear no resemblance to the work at hand.  Not this time.  Andres accomplishes exactly what she inspires to do in these works in a precise manner.

The photographs in “Sparrow Lane” are highly choreographed images, but instead of seeming stiff, the choreography adds to the tension (and the charm) of the context of the works: the age when young girls transition into womanhood; drawn forward by their curiosity at what lay ahead of them in life, meanwhile tentative and keeping one foot safely inside their youthful innocence.  That curiosity – trepidation interplay is wonderfully illustrated in the photos.  The color, the lighting, the composition, the wonderful subjects who are acting out these allegorical scenes, they all boldly add up to an articulate and sensitive visual communication. 

Next up is the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for photography, Preston Gannaway.  She’s a photojournalist in Concord, New Hampshire, about an hour from my childhood home.  Her work captures a family grieving the death of a family member, not in an aesthetically artistic way, but the way a journalist documents events.   These responses to death, captured in the photograph, are utterly engaging.  

In the image below Gannaway captures the moment right after the family’s matriarch passes away, and the many faces of human emotion and confusion in response to her passing.  At the scene’s emotional center of the piece lay the unanimated body of an elderly woman, just moments after life within is extinguished.  A very engrossing photograph.

Written by Wes Freese

June 12, 2008 at 6:48 am

Posted in Artists, Photography

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