In Neo Rauch’s current exhibition at David Zwirner’s 19th St. address in Chelsea, we are presented with eight large paintings, one of which is a diptych of the other large canvases as well as a few “handbag-sized” pictures. The imagery is typical of Neo: figures in antique Dutch clothing, historical architecture, technicolors popping out from rich darker earth tones, and figures who rarely make eye contact with each other and almost never the viewer. In this exhibition, colorful arrow signs populate most of the paintings and tie things together, hence the exhibition title The Signpost.

 

After feasting upon the amazing color palette and gorgeous paint handling, it is normal for a viewer to wonder where these images come from and what meaning does Neo intend. Although he has made a career of dodging these pedestrian inquiries, Neo now and again slips us clues to contemplate — for example when he mentions concepts like the Akashic records (which according to wikipedia is a theosophical concept for a compendium of all universal events, thoughts, words, emotions and intent ever to have occurred in the past, present, or future in terms of all entities and life forms, not just human.)

In our interview for the Jux Spring 2019 issue, when asked what he hoped society would learn from his paintings, Neo answered: “under the concrete of reality a life pulsates, which forms branched mycelium that suddenly comes to the surface in the form of the work of art.” As much as this sounds like a phrase potentially uttered by a psychonaut like Terence McKenna, Neo is very sober in his persona. However, I think he may have resolved his early life personal trauma, through developing an openness to the unexplainable, paranormal, and mysterious.

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When he was only a year old, his parents — young art school students aged 19 and 21 — died tragically in a train accident. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it — even as wackadoodle as it may sound to some folks — I believe the silver lining to this terrible occurrence is that Neo has become a medium through which his parents, lovingly from the afterlife, give him access to the layers of history that only someone in the other world can see clearly.

I’m not sure it is exactly like that, but hearing the way in which Neo speaks, I would be quite surprised if he has never thought about how his practice could be a conduit for his deceased parents. Personally, I am not an overtly spiritual or religious person and I do not partake in many mainstream New Agey practices like Astrology or Tarot cards, but if I were raised under the same circumstances — where my parents were unable to live out their creative lives, I’d be tempted to dedicate mine as a medium for their expression. 

Perhaps Neo’s parents remain in a certain plane of existence, a place of limbo, amongst other shades, and provide him, while in certain hypnagogic states, a view of the strange realm where ideas and culture have accumulated like fallen leaves to be reabsorbed into the minds of the living who are often completely unaware of their origins. —David Molesky