Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right New York State icon-chevron-right New York icon-chevron-right Neo Rauch’s dreamy drawings are the surreal thing at the Drawing Center

Neo Rauch’s dreamy drawings are the surreal thing at the Drawing Center

Neo Rauch’s fantastical works on paper go with the stream-of-consciousness flow

Photograph: Courtesy the artist, Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong, © Neo Rauch, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
By Paul Laster |
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Best known for his haunting, dreamlike paintings, German artist Neo Rauch reveals a different side to his practice with a survey of works on paper at the Drawing Center. On view are 170 examples, spanning his 30-year career, and, like his canvases, these pieces were created through a kind of subconscious reverie in which his art is directly pipelined from his imagination. Many of his themes deal with Germany’s past and how it dovetails with his own: Born in 1960, he grew up in Leipzig while it was still part of the former East Germany, making him a witness to the events that preceded and followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Photograph: Hollis Johnson

Do you remember the first drawing you ever made?
Yes. When I was two years old, I drew a picture of a woodpecker. I should try to find it and show it now

Photograph: Courtesy the artist, Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong, © Neo Rauch, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Do you separate drawing from painting? How big of a role does the former play in the latter?
I don’t use drawings for preparing paintings or anything. The way I paint and draw is almost the same. I don’t think about what I do; I just let ideas stream through my hand to my brush or pencil. Drawing just happens for me. And, besides, these works are really paintings; they just happen to be paper.

Photograph: Hollis Johnson

Are there elements that recur from one piece to the next?
Windows and trees, for the most part. But there are also snakes and dragons reappearing in several places, especially in the lower part of the paintings on paper. I suppose I’m trying to suggest something dangerous or uncanny happening there.

Photograph: Courtesy the artist, Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong, © Neo Rauch, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Because you grew up under communism, some people associate your work with socialist realism. I know you don’t care for the comparison, but what impact, if any, did the enforcement of an official aesthetic have on your artistic development?
Not much really, because my teachers were no longer influenced by this style. Politics didn’t outweigh aesthetics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig by the time I went there. The school’s director even said he wouldn’t permit government interference with the students. So we were pretty much allowed to work in peace.

Photograph: Photograph: Hollis Johnson

Are you channeling your dreams?
No, but I would say that I’m interested in simulating the mechanisms of dreaming, to make my work as if I’m dreaming. I do ask myself sometimes: Where does this come from? Why this way and not another? I could describe myself as a medium. In any case, I’m a painter, not an artist.

Photograph: Photograph: Hollis Johnson

What’s the difference?
A painter deals with representing indescribable and unexplainable things—things that words can’t fully represent. That’s not the same as being an artist, who I’d call brain-driven, but it also doesn’t mean that painting is dumb. A painting should always be more intelligent than the person who makes it.

“Neo Rauch: Aus dem Boden/From the Floor” is at the Drawing Center through June 28 (drawingcenter.org).

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