‘My basic artistic approach to the phenomena of this world is that I let things permeate through me, without any hierarchical pre-selection. And from the material I filter out, I then construct a private, very personal mosaic’ (N. Rauch, quoted in H. Liebs, ‘Nothing Embarrasses me Now’, in Neo Rauch: para, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007, p. 71).
In this intriguing, dreamlike monochrome by Neo Rauch, a man waves a white flag over what looks like a tyre with a missile emerging from its centre; a second man in overalls looks on, a pothole and a van – emblazoned with the mysterious initials ‘D.R.O.H.’ – behind him. A curiously suburban row of bungalows occupies the horizon, with densely realised trees which echo the lineage of 19th century Romanticism in Germany, as well as the woodcut tradition so often seized upon by Sigmar Polke in his own riotous layerings of style; such lush naturalism stands in stark contrast to the cryptic industry of the foreground. As is typical of the work of Rauch, which is uniquely coloured by the history of West Germany, his figures subvert the Teutonic idealism of the GDR’s Socialist Realist propaganda: strong, orderly and utilitarian, they are engaged in industrious but oblique activity. The forceful composition and clear message of a propagandist work is muted by Rauch’s merciless syncretic ambiguity, which also takes stylistic cues from comic books and American Pop. In all this uncertainty, even unease, lies the rich pleasure of his work. ‘You have to imagine,’ Rauch has said, ‘that the process of my painting is like a game of chess which I play against myself’ (N. Rauch in H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Neo Rauch, Cologne 2012, p. 262).