In Neo Rauch's large-scale painting, Die Helfer, the helper of the title appears to be looking to the heavens, as does the figure in the background: each crane their heads backwards, as though awaiting something from above, some deus ex machina. Rauch's oneiric paintings are often peopled with automaton-like figures, somnambulant workers carrying out odd or even nonsensical tasks, absorbed in their own actions. In Die Helfer, the strangeness of the tasks being carried out is emphasised by the deliberate difference in painting style with which the bizarre apparatus has been rendered. Where the figures have been painted by Rauch in part invoking an aesthetic that owes something to the agitprop and other materials of the GDR in which he grew up, the hoses are almost cartoonish with their bold outlines and stream of thick colour, in contrast to the muted palette of the rest of the picture. These tubes are vivid and visceral, highlighting the brushwork of the painting and thus allowing Rauch to expose and explore the range of techniques available to him in his artistic arsenal. In this way, the artist introduces the notion that these workers are in fact occupied in creating the picture from within.
Rauch has used his eclectic and wide-ranging visual lexicon in order to create paintings that are, to some extent, about painting. This came about in part as a reaction to his exposure to the abstract trends in contemporary art. Having been trained in, and railed against, figurative painting in Leipzig in East Germany, following the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was able to examine the many different approaches that had been adopted by the avant gardes in the West. It was at this point that Rauch began to develop his own unique means of salvaging figurative painting, deliberately working against the current. He thus invokes the promised, impossible utopias of Socialism in his pictures, visible in the clean-cut workers and the modernist building in Die Helfer; yet he collides these with a range of references, be it to contemporary artists, cartoons, propaganda or the Old Masters, resulting in paintings that, despite the highly personalised nature of their origins, touch upon more universal issues ranging from the nature of art to the human condition in our technological age, to a sense of detachment, of alienation, embodied so perfectly in the figure of the helper.
Rauch taps into this universal quality by colliding the various elements of his visual vocabulary in a way that they suggest themselves, hence in part the comparison made by numerous commentators to Surrealism. The picture grows organically, propelled by its own content, by an inner logic that makes itself gradually apparent. 'My basic artistic approach to the phenomena of this world is that I let things permeate through me, without any hierarchical pre-selection,' he has explained. 'And from the material I filter out, I then construct a private, very personal mosaic. And if that works well, then patterns appear which point to things beyond what is usually ascribed to the things' (Rauch, quoted in H. Liebs, 'Nothing Embarrasses Me Now', pp. 71-72, Neo Rauch: para, exh. cat., New York, 2007, p. 71).