Biography of Neo Rauch
Born in 1960, Neo Rauch is the son of Hanno Rauch and Helga Wand, who both studied art at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig. Tragically, Rauch's parents died together in a train accident when their newborn son was only four weeks old, and Rauch necessarily spent much of his life growing up with his grandparents in Aschersleben, a town that forms part of the Salzlandkreis district in Germany. Rauch grew up during the construction of the Berlin Wall, and thus lived his formative years in what was then regarded as East Germany, an undoubtedly influential experience leading him to stay forever clear of making art for the purpose of propaganda or under the service of politics. For to do so would obscure opening up free dialogue in art, with politics intent on the portrayal of only one rigid message.
Rauch's passion for art began at a young age. As a child, his peers were interested in sports and playing cards whilst he recalls a natural interest in literature, culture, and drawing; this disparity of interests often made him feel lonely. Rauch remembers the importance of a day when he was 12 years old and discovered a book containing reproductions of Salvador Dalí's work on his grandfather's bookshelf. Further citing the early building blocks of his career, Rauch talks of the great opportunity that he saw in art to be able to transfer the mode of play into professionalism; any other option was simply "out of question".
Early Training and Work
Between 1981 and 1986, Rauch studied at Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig (the very same school that his parents had attended) under the professors Arno Rink and Bernhard Heisig. It was from there that Rauch emerged as a prominent figure in the "New Leipzig School", a title for a movement that surfaced post-reunification in 1990 in attempt to unite a group of artists who seemed loyal to painting figurative scenes of East German life. However, this was a label given by critics and historians and none of the artists associated with the term actually subscribed to it or deemed it useful. Rauch's work in particular always remained distinct from the dominant Social Realism of East Germany, and from the Neo-Expressionist styles of the West. Even in his early work he had developed a poetic narrative style that was quite unique, and assertively refused to subscribe to any movement or moment in history.
In an interview with Zeit.de, Rauch recalled when he first personally met his influential friend and teacher, Arno Rink. Rauch stated that Rink had an appearance akin to writer Thomas Mann combined with an attitude that demanded respect. Reminding the young artist of the demands expected whilst enlisted in the National People's Army (the national service that all young men still undertake in Germany), Rauch said that Rink's attitude was one that he understood and was happy to answer with respect. During his studies, Rauch cites that he admired Rink's precision of detail, and a sense of magic within his color palette.
During this time, in 1985, Rauch married his fellow artist and representative of the "New Leipzig School", Rosa Loy. In various interviews, Rauch discusses the couple's dynamic as two working artists, stating that they do not view each other as competition and are both proud of each other's success, jokingly elaborating upon their frequent chess games where Loy always wins whilst simultaneously knitting and listening to music with one earphone.
Between 1986 and 1990, Rauch chose to further his education by continuing to study for his Masters at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig. The 1980s was a crucial phase in Rauch's life, as it was in the University environment that he began to feel like less of an outsider. It was also at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst that Rauch met Judy Lybke, a life-long friend who also became the founder of EIGEN+ART gallery, Rauch's gallerist, and instrumental in his commercial success.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed, and in 1990, Rauch and Loy's son was born, the latter of which events Rauch described as "The greatest change in my life...That's when I crossed over into greater responsibility, but at the same time it offered me the chance to embrace child-play once again". Between the years 1993 and 1998, Rauch decided to further his practice as an artist by working as an assistant for his teachers, Arno Rink and Sighard Gille at Leipziger Akademie. During this time Rauch had already started to exhibit his own work but he initially achieved little success and attracted no interest. In 1993, Rauch had his first solo show at EIGEN + ART in Leipzig, recalling it as a "commercial disaster" likely because video and installation were very popular at the time.
Six years later, Rauch made his breakthrough onto the international art scene following a display of work exhibited as part of 1999 Armory Show in New York. His work then quickly became popular and he exhibited work far and wide, in Austria, Spain, Holland and Canada. With recognition however came criticism, and Rauch initially found this difficult to deal with. Between 2005 and 2009, Rauch turned his attention to teaching and became a professor at his alma mater, Hochshule für Grafik und Buchkunst. In 2009 he decided to end his professorship. He felt that he could not simultaneously combine the demands of being an artist and a professor, stating that teaching working was not a "quiet zone".
Always based in Leipzig, Rauch was often asked whether he would consider leaving the city. He responds with a definite "no" expanding that he feels he has the space he needs for his house, garden, and studio in the city, and fears that he wouldn't elsewhere, such as Berlin, which is too crowded for his taste. Rauch's studio is in a former cotton mill known as the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei. Many other members of the New Leipzig School also have their studios there. The building has been converted into many artist workshops, and he finds the creative environment very inspiring. Every weekday morning, Rauch cycles six miles to his workshop, with the intention to arrive there by nine in the morning and to finish at seven. During lunchtime, Rauch prepares lunch for himself and his wife, who works across the hall. Situated adjacent to him is Tilo Baumgärtel's workspace, a Leipziger artist who shares a strong working relationship with Rauch. Rauch spends his weekends gardening, telling the New York Times "I also need those weekends off to put some kind of distance between me and my paintings...When I come back on Mondays, the paint on the canvases has dried, and only then I can really judge my own work."
Rauch has enjoyed much commercial success and has many esteemed and wealthy clients including Brad Pitt, who, in 2009, bought the work Stage (1998) at Art Basel. Rauch is frequently asked how he feels about the money that his works sell for, to which he has replied that he acknowledges and appreciates the sheer enormity of these sums, but he believes that the "price" paid for the paintings does not necessarily coincide with "value".
In 2012 der Grafikstiftung Neo Rauch was founded. This site, built specifically for the artist is now a foundation that has become home to all of Rauch's graphic works created since 1992, and will also be the home for future work, as well as a space where exhibitions can take place. Rauch stated "The foundation in Aschersleben will be the perfect combination of my own interests and those of the town...I practically have my own museum to be under constant pressure to produce high quality work. At the same time, the foundation will be a boost to the town's cultural life." Der Grafikstiftung Neo Rauch stands as testament to the importance of the artist's own roots, situated in the town where he was brought up. It also confirms his dedicated commitment to disseminating art more widely, and his massive power of positive influence on the international art world.
Rauch continues to paint daily, and exhibit regularly. In 2015, he had a joint exhibition with Rosa Loy at the Society of Friends of Contemporary Art (in Zwickau - Loy's town of birth) in celebration of the couple's thirty years of marriage. Many of Rauch's paintings include a figure that resembles Loy. In The Measuring (date unknown) for example, Loy can be found dressed in black in the background. Director and curator, Klaus Fischer has remarked that when Loy appears she takes the role of an observer in Rauch's paintings, presented as though watching over the situation that plays out as a whole, a likely reflection the couple's everyday life.
This particular exhibition was very tender and personal, also consisting of paintings of a smaller scale, which Loy described as gifts the couple had given to each other on special occasions, such as on Christmas, birthdays, or wedding anniversaries. Rauch and Loy have jointly exhibited their work numerous times over the years, and most recently they held a show centred around a painting called The knitters (2018) including paintings that the couple had actually worked on together.
In 2017, Rauch's teacher and life-long friend Arno Rink passed away, Rauch was with him during his last days, and says that he will remember him as a 'fatherly friend'. Having achieved much success, Rauch was asked in the 2017 documentary directed by Nicola Graef - Neo Rauch: Gefährten und Begleiter - as to whether he would ever consider taking a break having been painting now for so long. He responds by saying this is something that he has tried but it bought him nothing, stating "it made everything worse...because the absence of painting simply generated a feeling of uselessness. Who am I when I am not painting?"
The Legacy of Neo Rauch
Along with other artists affiliated with the New Leipzig School, Rauch can be accredited for returning a figurative practice to the forefront of the art world. Through his combined application of Renaissance, Surrealist, and Realist elements, Rauch creates work that cannot easily be labelled or classified within any specific genre. He creates intrigue in his non-conforming approach engaging the viewer through a certain repulsion of the usual channels of analysis. It has been suggested that it is Rauch's approach of combining reality and unreality that attracts the interest of Hollywood actors.
Rauch has influenced many other artists including fellow German Stefan Kibellus, and the Pop Surrealist artist, Marion Peck. Kibellus positions Rauch in his workshop backed by a figurative painting with his clothing covered in splatters of paint in Portrait Neo Rauch (date unknown). Having observed Rauch in order to make this portrait, Kibellus summarized Rauch's working process as, "Armed with two paintbrushes. The canvas is his arena. The doubts are his opponents. Courageously he faces the uncertainty. I love his paintings." Kibellus, like others, admires Rauch for the dramatic nature of his work. He alludes to the enormous amount of energy that Rauch invests in his work, a sort of contemporary heroism that is visibly described in a metaphor akin to going into battle.
Rauch however, sees himself less as a hero and more as a human needed to "re-enchant" the world: a timeless figure destined to weave people and history together. His canvases bear no reference to particular places or periods in universal time; he tries simultaneously to understand his own personal, "family time". Due to the fact that his parents died tragically, and so young, it is as though Rauch has come to express his own legacy as one entwined with that of his parents. In 2016, Der Grafikstiftung Neo Rauch hosted a special exhibition featuring the work of Hanno and Neo Rauch under the title Father and Son. As Hanno Rauch died so young, it is only thanks to Neo that such a wide audience now knows his father's early drawings. Typically self-portraits, or portraits of Rauch's mother, there is a strong sense that Hanno's art, and indeed the exhibition hosted in his name, is a legacy in turn fuelling and supporting the legacy of his son.
Content compiled and written by Libby Festorazzi
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
Content compiled and written by Libby Festorazzi
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
First published on 26 Oct 2019. Updated and modified regularly