I fail to understand why the sentence noting the depicted woman’s Doc Martens boots was dropped, when a) this follows as part of a description of the depicted couple, b) notes a recurring preference on the part of the artist in female footwear c) has otherwise escaped commentary on the artist or this show, elsewhere. It was a valid point and argued a) against the tendency to see the artist’s iconography drawn exclusively from Socialist Realism and b) underlines various incongruous and fragmented features to the artist’s work.
I similarly, cannot see the point of removing the interpretation of the hovering branches and blossoms in the evening sky, described in the first paragraph, when this actually explains why the scene provides an intimacy between the man and woman. The sentence removed read: 'The cropped trunks and separated branches surely carry some analogy for their relationship – perhaps cut off by necessity in some way only to enjoy fruits belatedly'. To edit straight to the claim 'This rare scene of intimacy...' explains nothing of what the mysterious blossoms in the evening sky might represent or why this should make the picture a scene of intimacy between the man and woman! This is not just pointless and destructive but suggests a disturbing evasion of the picture's meaning and of the role of interpretation in general.
There is a further omission from the second paragraph of the sentence ‘In practice, these issues are decided by context and content in publications, but for painting they go to the porous middle ground between realism and abstraction’. This was originally included to indicate where Rauch’s project fits within an overall view of the role of painting and since the theme to issue 13 was explicitly ‘Paint’ this seemed only appropriate, and in an edition crammed with reports and short of just such reflection, I would have thought most welcome. But clearly such considerations carried no weight with the sub-editor.
Likewise, several later deletions fail to retain careful qualifications, such as removing the phrase ‘where it uses standard print sources’ in the opening sentence to the third paragraph, and the verb ‘tend to’ from the sentence ‘Pictures tend to grow grander, smoother, yet crowded and tedious’. This is carping, but it is carping on the part of the editor, firstly. What was the point of saving two words in the interests of a blanket generalisation?
Clearly I have been spoiled by the freedom and control of blogging or self-publishing on the web. And since my piece was submitted free and without condition, I can hardly complain. Garageland is a valuable platform for a circle of struggling London artists and I wish the editors Cathy and Alli well, but I shall make no further contributions.
Neo Rauch 2011
Heilstätten – David Zwirner, New York, Nov 4 – Dec 17 2011.
The large, brooding Aprilnacht (2011, 305 X 255cm) sums up recent developments in the artist’s work. Presumably, something like a Walpurgisnacht celebration for spring, Aprilnacht places a man and woman in period military overcoats paused by a dying bonfire to toy with an owl mask and what appears to be a masked owl perched on the knee of the woman. She also wears Doc Martens – something of a preference in women’s footwear for the artist. The setting is a heath amid pruned tree trunks; these contrasted with a flourish of lopped branches and blossom hovering magically in the night sky above the couple, like some occult calligraphy. The cropped trunks and separated branches surely carry some analogy for their relationship – perhaps cut off by necessity in some way only to enjoy fruits belatedly. It is a scene of intimacy rare for the artist, but more typically, it is dealt with ceremonially. They address each other in terms of masks or tokens. Notably, the tops to the discarded painter’s gloves in the lower left corner rhyme with the tree stumps as horizontals, flag which side of the equation they belong on and more directly announce that ‘the gloves are off’ at this point. But who is the artist kidding?
The nature setting and mysticism are new for the artist, but the interest in ritual and costume, symbol and stylisation are longstanding. They stem from stock graphics where a stark, usually linear style preserves only some literal qualities for an object; may combine them with those of other objects, in fiction, or assign either a metaphorical extension, as symbol. In practice, these issues are decided by context and content in publications, but for painting they go to the porous middle ground between realism and abstraction. In Rauch’s early work figures were often posed in scientific and industrial tasks, much like instructional illustration in line and tone, but the tasks and settings tended to be implausible or absurd, suggesting a more metaphorical realm, as symbols of futility or alienation, possibly nostalgia. The artist makes these distinctions between role, task and setting through shifts in scale, tone, perspective and proportion, effectively isolating and contrasting parts, as if in a collage, that then begs questions of function and identity.
Rauch’s approach is interesting for the way it resists Expressionism, risks Surrealism and distantly recalls Pop, where it uses standard print sources. It is a shrewd and delicate mix. However, the artist’s ambition to embrace more traditional roles and other occasions dilutes the mix. Pictures tend to grow grander, smoother, yet crowded and tedious. Opportunities for crucial breaks within them shrink or become trivial, tasks become celebratory or formalities, facture loses much of its expressive detachment. In Aprilnacht one detects this in the clumsy pose to the man’s legs and modelling to the fire, not quite breaking the picture anymore, not properly sustaining it. If the artist now looks to nature for some galvanising moment, it is because roles have become too comfortable, style too accommodating.
December 8th 2011