Curated by Constanze von Marlin
With Chimerika, Kunstverein Göttingen presents the first major solo exhibition of the Chinese painter Rao Fu in a German institution. His imagery draws on the cultures of both East and West, as reflected in his biography. Born in Peking and growing up in Tsingtau, Fu came to Germany in his early twenties to study painting at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. There he began to incorporate what he learned about the western art tradition into his works, combining them with the techniques, motifs, and materials of Chinese painting, in which the central media are paper, paintbrush, and ink. After a number of experiments, also with soy oil, he discovered bitumen paint, which is still his main medium today, used in combination with pigments and oil paint. Because the black-brown, oily bitumen is water soluble, it combines elements of western oil painting with the expressive range of Chinese ink. Depending on the bush used, the absorbency of the paper and the amount of water employed, it is possible to achieve the finest nuances in the intensity of the paint. The finest detailed rendering to a sparse or even rough use of line, in which a motif is indicated with only a few strokes of the brush, constitute the range of Rao Fu’s images. However, his palette remains limited to the earthy, dark black, brown, and grey colors, which are often highlighted with blue, red and sometimes yellow accents. The title of the exhibition Chimerika describes a utopian place where the cultures of the East (China) and the West (America) come together visually and thematically. Elements of different origins—visual memories, art historical images, advertising, pictures from the news from both cultural and social contexts—are brought together in Fu’s images but do not present a logical narrative. And even his landscapes seem to be composed of different pieces that do not quite fit together in terms of scale and perspective. Small-format works often show domestic scenes of family life—painted snapshots from the family album, in which people’s faces have something mask- or animal-like. Such images convey a sense of universality in themes and subject matter, but not in a momentous or symbolic manner. They are simply scenes that viewers can universally identify with, but simultaneously it is clear that the images themselves are chimeras, or illusions, which is the true essence of almost every form of painting.