Layers, folds, and salvaging
Abstract rock formations in tender grey. Above them, a bit of sky, a subtle blue between light color fields. The mountains in Jens Rausch’s latest pictures seem plastic and lively – topographic even. In this series of works, the artist shows pictorial worlds behind glass. He calls the series PANORAMA. The Ancient Greek word is composed of pan, for “all, whole”, and horao, “to see”. This notion, however, is turned into its opposite here: what the new objects show is limited to a small picture format, a mere excerpt in a vertical format – contrary to what one might excerpt. The expected visibility of the whole remains limited as an excerpt, a framing. This impression is intensified by the matte window glass that is put in front of the formation, giving it a depth of focus and a partly vague appearance. An untouched – even untouchable – pictorial world that seems to invite us to enter the freedom of the mountains, while at the same time keeping us out. We are looking at a hermetic world through a window, but we cannot (fully) grasp it. The work resembles a subtle reference to the current pandemic, which limits our view outside to the screens of our devices. The longing for a freedom that remains restricted.
Like paper folds, the peaks reach directly into space and provide us with an idea of how they were made. The images, free of human beings, evoke in the viewers a feeling of the majestic sublimity of nature, but they also retain a tender aura of aloofness due to their specific presentation. The motives are almost tangible and yet almost mystically ephemeral. They change according to the angle of the light. The viewers’ perspective also affects the impact of the artworks, almost making them co-designers of the aesthetic experience. Due to the layers and pigments, a pictorial depth is created that is both material and chemical, physical and metaphysical.
The masterful use of closeness and distance, nature and artificiality, representation and abstraction has long been characteristic of Jens Rausch’s artistic practice. With his unique means of painting, he manages to convey an inquiring perspective on the world in his pictures. He takes his raw material from natural circles and feeds it into his own dynamic system. He uses materials that were once part of mountains as collages and compositions, compressing them into pictures of these very mountains: marble powder, chalk, feldspar, meltwater and graphite are combined and become awesome spines, steep ridges, long mountain ranges, and complicated folds. Rausch’s pictorial thinking is reflected in the pictures’ form: the artist – who lives in Hamburg – combines different surfaces and structures, using layers and processes of ablation that resemble geological processes. In analogy to the history of the Earth, he creates vertical sediments that become more defined by processes of artistic erosion. We might describe it as a salvaging the motive from the material.
The image carriers resemble an intersection between sculpture, relief, and painting. They unfold their own corporeality. Even though his painting may, at first sight, be associated with romanticism, Jens Rausch is not a landscape painter in the traditional sense. Of course, the works could be read in the context of Western art history. In their cool elegance and unique execution, however, they unfold their unique aesthetics and reality that goes far beyond mere referentiality.
Jens Rausch does not just want to represent or idealize reality. Rather, he tries to investigate and understand the most elementary structures of the dynamic world that surrounds us. For this purpose, he abandons visual and methodical conventions, challenges our habits of seeing, and deconstructs historically established motives. He shows the viewer nature in its processual aesthetics and complexity and, at the same time, addresses current issues: due to climate change and the resulting melting of permafrost grounds, erosion processes in various landscapes are accelerated, grounds become porous, and rocks increasingly collide.
In his pictures of forests, fields, and mountains, Jens Rausch contrasts reduction and sharpness, light and shadow, smooth and rough surfaces. He thus creates pictorial spaces that seem unreal, associative, and atmospheric. His compositions seem to be carefully presented atmospheric images that are aware of their own complexity. The works’ conceptional depth is also due to their processing by the painter. Both process and material often have an unpredictable life of their own. They react to each other, and with each other. Jens Rausch proceeds like an anarchic alchemist who mixes ideas, pictorial spaces, and materials into something new.
In these experimental processes, deliberate artistic actions and random reactions complement each other. The works themselves also sometimes develop further. Due to the material used in them, they have a life of their own; they keep on working. Jens Rausch accepts these material peculiarities. He deliberately anticipates them in his work. His pictorial worlds could thus, on several levels, be described as painting that is alive. Artistic interventions, chemical-physical reactions, chance, and poetic titles complement each other and merge into a complex and impressive unity that is unique in painting.
By Quirin Brunnmeier
Listen to the heliumTALK podcasts with Jens Rausch:
Episode #86 (April 2022)
Excursion #2 (August 2019)
(Artist Photo by Julia Schwendner)