Gerd Rautert: A German Expressionist’s Art of Indelible Archetypes

Aufseher, Paintings51 x 67

A monumental sense of modern dislocation in a world that has grown fragmented is what comes across most strongly in the large Expressionist works in acrylic and ink on canvas of Gerd Rautert, a German artist who states “I feel closer to myself and to God when I paint.”
    Rautert is a master markmaker, an artist who appears to navigate his compositions mainly by intuition. As with the Abstract Expressionists, the canvas is both a place of worship and a battlefield. De Kooning once stated “Painting is not a situation of comfort for me,” and you sense immediately that it is not one for Rautert either. Salvation maybe, but not comfort by any means. The figures that he paints, mostly male, are archetypes, like Leo Golub’s giant mercenaries or the sculptor Ernest Trova’s faceless robotic Everymen. They appear at once heroic and tragic as they sit chin in hand like Rodin’s “Thinker” or suspend themselves strangely  in an atmosphere of painterly frenzy Jean-Michel Basquiat might have envied.
    Words often enter the picture, a kind of inner graffiti of the artist’s thoughts while painting. For the American viewer who has no grasp of German, they become purely visual symbols and as such are still sufficient to command one’s interest. For everything in Rautert’s work is a discrete sign anyway, another autonomous, mysterious  mark in an entire alphabet of marks, signs, and symbols in search of completion but drawing their energy from the struggle of process.
    At times his line is as supple as those of Jean Cocteau and Picasso. Symbols can also appear, as seen in one eventful canvas centering on a masculine profile delineated in beige on a shadowy brown figure. The shape of a stylized guitar, almost Miro-like in its bulbous biomorphic contours, is suspended where the figure’s heart would be, amid a lively array of word-fragments and shapes that demand no explication, since they compel the viewer  purely on their own plastic merits and as mysterious semiotic signifiers.
    In one medium-sized, square shaped canvas the word “Evas” stands out, along with the spare calligraphic figure of a female nude evoked with a few graceful lines hovering cloud-like or like a wisp of smoke over two larger, more solidly painted figures. Both are seated in chairs as though in a bar or cafe, albeit indicated only by the artist’s visual shorthand with characteristic linear grace. Both have their chins in a hand, in that aforementioned “Thinker” gesture. But without breaking this pose the one on the right spins its head around to glance at the one on the left, which appears almost identical but wears some hooded garment resembling the coverall garb of devout Arab women, albeit covered with cross-like designs. Is the smoke-like figure floating above them a wistful figment of the male figure’s poignant fantasies of a better world in which he might come to know this chastely covered woman more intimately –– or simply a formal element of the composition? That its meaning is not immediately apparent is what makes Rautert’s personal iconography so intriguing.
    For like his fellow German Expressionists A.R. Penck, Jorg Immendorff, Georg Baselitz and Markus Lupertz, Gerd Rautert is not in the business of spelling out obvious explanations or telling trite symbolic tales. Rather, like Penck in particular, but with greater, less primitive draftsmanly gifts, he is a creator of universal archetypes that linger in the mind of the viewer long after one has seen them.                               –– Maurice Taplinger    

Gerd Rautert, Agora Gallery 530 West 25th St., June 4 - 25, 2013
Reception: Thursday, June 6, 6 - 8 pm.

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