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.