Arnulf Rainer’s work has always been rooted in action, in fighting the status quo, in the search for the truth that lies within our sub -conscious. When he began making art in the late 1940’s he was an ardent admirer of the Surrealists but by the early 1950’s had turned his back on them after meeting Andre Breton in Paris. His attentions then turn to creating overpaintings in which he obliterated his early expressive drawings and pictures by friends whose work he liked. The outcome was a series of monochrome paintings dominated by black or red.
From the mid 1950’s Rainer threw his energies into exploring extreme emotional states through religious theories, practices and paintings dominated by cruciform shapes which led him to collecting paintings by inmates in mental asylums in the 1960’s – as a result he now has one of the largest Outsider art collections in the World – and experimenting with hallucinogenics. His work always on the margins, always exploring the deep emotional vista of the mind.
By the 1970’s Rainer was reworking photographs using oil stick scribbles and smudges to either exaggerate or eliminate the features portrayed in the self-portraits. As he was to say later:
Drawing over photos of myself…gave me the feeling of realizing a reproduction of myself and a symbolic transformation and extinction of myself at the same time.
This process of destroying his image has allowed Rainer to ‘discover ‘the subhuman in myself’ a process he continues to follow to this day, making pictures that exploit the interaction of intellectual meditation and bodily expression. The art journalist and curator Johannes Cladders said this about Rainer’s works:
His images aren’t paintings in an aesthetic dialogue or monologue, nor are they illustrations, allegories, or symbols of anything. They are actions; victories of futility, of the underdog.
Rainer has spent his entire artistic life, over 60 years, going his own way, swimming against the tide, rejecting everything that went before him, trusting himself, believing in himself. His life a policy of refusal and rejection. He is an artist who stands for all that is true about making art. He is an artist who we all must aspire to especially in a world of compromise, state funding, cultural tourism and subservience to the gallery system.