The present work’s composition is directly related to Neo Rauch’s epic masterpiece Die Fuge, a painting measuring over three by four metres, which was exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and is today part of the collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Similar to this impressive large-scale painting, the present work depicts on a more intimate scale a rural scenery with two men in the foreground and a large, fuming volcano in the background. The composition of both works recalls Balthus’ The Mountain from 1937 with figures in the foreground that almost seem discordant from their actual surrounding. Rauch deliberately chooses not to paint from photographs, and through this approach he achieves a mysterious juxtaposition of rural and industrial elements that create an otherworldly, surreal atmosphere. Art critic John Yau argued that “like Philip Guston, Rauch wants to reinvent painting for himself, hence his refusal to use photographs or settle into a style. Add to his refusal his claim that his paintings come from his dreams, and one senses his commitment to getting himself off of all the accepted paths painting has followed“ (John Yau, ‘Neo Rauch Para’, The Brooklyn Rail, 4 September 2007, online). In fact, the artist claims to envision the landscapes he paints clearly in his mind, just as if he was painting them after real life scenes and describes them as “fragment dreamscapes” (Ulf Küster, ‘Neo Rauch’s landscapes’, in: Exh. Cat., Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Neo Rauch, 1997, p. 36). This contributes to the overwhelming sense that his work belongs to the inner realm of fantasy and dreams but is yet uncannily familiar.
Born in Leipzig in 1960, Neo Rauch’s formative years were spent behind the Iron Curtain and his pictorial repertoire is frequently sourced from various Communist-related image material. As such, his work is fettered with references of the social and political tumultuous changes of East Germany. While exploring the Communist history and the subsequent influx of capitalism of his motherland, Rauch brings the pole aesthetics of these two cultures together to depict “spaces and things that exists in worlds between worlds” (Stephen Little, ‘Neo Rauch: Works 1994-2002’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Para Neo Rauch, 2007, p. 68). Educated at the prestigious Kunstakademie in Leipzig, Rauch received unique formation that prioritised drawing from the model, mastering the rules of perspective and analysing composition. However, Rauch is not a painter in the classical sense; for him, “painting implies heedful reflection, not necessarily reading the guidance offered by the preliminary sketch. He approaches the final image gradually, by means of a complicated intellectual process” (Ulf Küster, ‘Neo Rauch’s Landscapes’, in: op. cit., p. 36).
Rauch’s world of images is seemingly arbitrary. Yet, a closer look at his intriguing juxtaposition will reveal that the painter has created his own powerful glossary, an idiom that is at once clearly visible yet impossible to fully grasp. Ascribing to the inscrutable surrealist mood, the use of propaganda images and the rendering of a seemingly realistic scene, Vulkan powerfully illustrates the phantasmagorical repertoire that has earned Neo Rauch his status as one of the most original artists of his generation.
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