This weekend, I met a local San Francisco painter whose time at Cal overlapped with my own. What’s more, he knew some of the same people I had known in the co-ops. Because of these connections and the fact that we only knew our respective companions at the BBQ we attended, we ended up hitting it off.

Later that evening, he showed his studio to our little crew. On the walls, in various stages of completeness, were his wave paintings, for which he is somewhat renowned. I think they are an interesting abstraction born out of the representational. He works from photographs (that are clearly representational) and accentuates, tweaks and otherwise plays with the colors and forms to get the feeling that he wants. (Two of my readers might also be interested in these paintings from his earlier, non-wave works.)

As much as I appreciated seeing his work, especially within the work environment whence it develops, one of the coolest parts of the evening was when he took down a book of the paintings of Neo Rauch. Rauch’s paintings are amazing; bold, carefully chosen colors highlight strange figures in landscapes or spaces that are paradoxical and shifting. You can see 45 of Rauch’s paintings here, although none of these were in the collection that I saw. Paintings 6 through 8 in that link show some of what I mean about Rauch’s playing with space. The dimensions all make sense if you look at each little area, but then they seem to shift and flow into one another; a slightly more unnerving M.C. Escher illusion.

I found Rauch’s paintings to be surreal in the best possible sense of the word. They aren’t strange just to seem strange, nor are they morbid or simply disgusting, the way the work of some contemporary painters who have taken up the surrealist label can be. Rather, the paintings seem to use the quotidian, and our own conceptions of what constitutes the normal world, to undermine that same, somewhat smug, understanding. Rauch manages to do all of this while using and combining colors that are just beautiful to the eye. I’ve always found that the palettes of the early Surrealists were just too drab for my liking.

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