Diana d’arenberg Parmanand meets celebrated German artist Neo Rauch, a painter who will lure you into his fantastical world of nightmares and dreamscapes
Celebrated German artist Neo Rauch lures viewers into a fantastical world of nightmares and dreamscapes
or three decades, German artist Neo Rauch has been one of the leading figurative painters of his generation, his works windows into a strange world. It’s a world that operates according to its own laws, a world that is at once familiar with its bucolic scenery and sometimes industrial landscapes, and yet completely alien and alienating. Conventions of painting are disregarded. Figures appear disembodied and disproportionate in size to one another, and the rules of perspective and proportion are discarded. The paintings look like they are made up of fragments, collages of images plucked from storybooks and the imagination. It results in an unsettling atmosphere, dense with drama and discord.
Rauch was born in 1960 in Leipzig in what was then East Germany. He was brought up by his grandparents from the age of four weeks after his mother and father were killed in a train accident. Soviet-era Liepzig gave Rauch, who still lives in the city, a firm grounding in the figurative social-realist art that defined the communist aesthetic and which, to an extent, also defines his own work. He studied at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts and later worked at the Leipziger Academy in the ’90s as a master’s student under influential Leipzig School painters Arno Rink and Sighard Gille.
Although Rauch says that works by Balthus, Francis Bacon and Giotto had “a fundamentally stabilising effect on his formal practice” and “saved” him from “wandering off into mainstream painting,” it is impossible not to ponder how this fusion of East and West Europe, of two different value systems (if not two different worlds) that the artist experienced, come into play in his work. Unlike fellow East German artists Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, who eschewed any link to social-realist traditions and figuration, Rauch embraced the influences of East Germany. Blending these with Western art influences, he paved the way for the resurgence of figurative painting.
The mix of influences and the merging of past and present, the personal and the political, result in a singular voice and vision in painting that has defied trends and seen Rauch scale the heights of the contemporary art market. After a 1999 Armory Show presentation by Berlin gallery Eigen + Art catapulted his work into the international spotlight, Rauch enjoyed New