Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer’s gaze is immediately drawn to a large, painted interior, the material of which looks to be undergoing a process of liquefaction. We find ourselves almost relieved to have arrived just in time to catch this fascinating moment of transformation, of change in (aggregate) state. Then the surrounding UFOs assert themselves as equals – despite their transcendental appearance. In his solo exhibition Etui 1-7Stehn Raupach draws on the transitory, blurry interiors of his “cross series” once more and at the same time concludes this body of work. While the large interior is permeated by the notion of spaces that dissolve boundaries, the artist leaves internal space behind in his UFO series, subtly projecting existential questions into space.
In producing his grisaille painting “J-A” Stehn Raupach has initiated an artistic analysis of the transition from conscious to unconscious mind, from tradition towards a vision of the future. The artist began by projecting the photograph of an analogous control center of the 1960s onto the canvas. Yet contrary to the customary use of this method for creating a preliminary sketch, Raupach did not trace the contours of the photographic image. He instead outlined color gradients as though they were autonomous microorganisms, before painting them in a single layer of color – working like a fresco artist who works centimeter by centimeter into the still-wet plaster. And Raupach calmly succeeds in his tireless battle for the state between solidity and dissolution.
Like many late Romantics, Raupach reduces “J-A” to monochrome space devoid of humans. The subtle range of grey hues makes the work appear to be showing material that has become fluid and separated before solidifying once more. A distinct cosmos reveals itself, one made up of painted strokes and specks reminiscent of particles floating in the air that would remain invisible to the human eye without technical aid. Reconstructing the artist’s single-layer painting process in the given volume not only allows for a microscopic analysis of the material, but also prompts an excursion into art history. While Raupach’s slow and concentrated painting process is evocative of fresco painting, the subject matter echoes the sublime as addressed by the Romantics and Impressionists.
Raupach arrived at his UFO theme through the protracted work process necessary to create “J-A”. Like other artists throughout history who have achieved an innovative painting perspective by making recourse to a construction, Raupach overcame physical restrictions with the aid of an additional arm rest added to a regular office swivel chair. Being able to effortlessly stay in a position intensified the meditative nature of his work. Operating the chair transposed the artist into his own work – as though he was piloting an imaginary space craft.
Raupach says of his UFO series: “UFOs are difficult to paint. They are supposed to depict a magical world and at the same time raise questions – in a way that cannot really be answered.” The UFOs present themselves on backgrounds of delicate hues ranging from eggshell to olive green. Black in some areas, in others almost blending into the grounds and at times with blurry contours, the flying saucers seem to gain a haptic quality not unlike that of delicate bisque porcelain in front of silken wallpaper. The juxtaposition of the matt-black surfaces and the UFOs merging with the backgrounds evokes a light-and-shadow-play that anticipates the “unanswerable” aspect of their un-legitimized existence as unidentified-flying-objects. Is it a UFO or a shadow, or the work of our own imagination? Whichever the case may be, it is palpable that the seemingly floating objects in their subtle state between existence, un-existence and having-been-in-a-dream have a captivating effect. However, rather than abducting their audience, their spectral, intermittently contoured, sensitive state and soft light sources invite the viewers to enter a state of daydream. They raise persistent questions. Their buoyant existence almost entirely shuts out all traces of humans and nature, such as those found in the control center of “J-A”. A vision of the future, in which man and machine become one?
We are currently, at the beginning of 2019, seeing the NASA space probe pass the recently discovered object Ultima Thule for the first time, and the Chinese space craft Chang’e 4 has achieved the first landing on the dark side of the moon: Both manned and autonomously flying machines are celebrating historical successes. The headlines are heralding a harmonious interplay between humans and machines – as Raupach’s paintings seem to be doing. The blurred images we see in the news of floating grey bodies with porous surfaces in black space are reminiscent of the painterly aesthetic of Raupach’s works. While seemingly inscrutable at first glance, the UFOs appear to offer more answers than the historic recordings of the conceivable, dusty celestial bodies. Stehn Raupach’s whirring, reflective, far-away and glowing objects respond to the viewer – like etuis, cases filled with personal contents – through a phenomenon we know all too well: light.