David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by Neo Rauch. On view at the gallery's London location, this marks the German artist's debut solo presentation in the UK. Widely recognized for his distinctive combination of figurative painting and surrealist abstraction, his work has been represented by David Zwirner since 2000.
Born in 1960 in Leipzig, Rauch spent his youth in the Eastern Bloc at a time when Socialist realism was the predominant aesthetic. As a reaction, he developed his own highly individual style, which came to symbolize a broader generational break with the existing canon. His enigmatic compositions employ a personal iconography of human characters, animals, and hybrids within familiar-looking but imaginary settings. They frequently incorporate references to the creative process, music, and manual labor, but ultimately eschew fixed meaning. The artist's treatment of scale is deliberately arbitrary and non-perspectival, and often seems to allude to different time zones or planes of existence.
This exhibition brings together large and small format paintings in which figures are depicted against backdrops of suburban architecture, industrial structures, and a dimly lit interior. While Rauch develops each work instinctively without a preconceived idea of the finished result, there is visual coherence to the overall group of paintings on view, both in their similar palettes of strong, complementary colors as well as in recurring subjects, such as fire, the seamless integration of organic and non-organic forms, and dramatic, saturated skies.
The multiple storylines that characterize the large-scale works in particular, combined with their striking use of light and emphasis on the human figure, evoke Old Master painting. In Rauch's case, however, the compositions emerge like self-contained fables, whose subjects are beyond immediate grasp. Episodes of repetition within a single work reinforce the impression of dreamlike narratives. One canvas, Der Auftakt, shows a winged man in a suit posing for an artist, while a percussionist, wearing a horned hat, appears three times; in Der Störfall, in which an immobile nude body is tended to, a boy with a torch can be seen twice. Die Forderung depicts the same modern-day building from slightly different perspectives, as several men in clothes from bygone times crowd the foreground; and numerous intersecting lines in Zustrom repeat the symbol of the cross within a sunny, pastoral setting. Defying a traditional sense of realism while retaining a degree of plausibility, these paintings create their own mythologies.