Q&A with Resident Artist Carl Rauschenbach
You can’t see the countless hours Carl Rauschenbach has put into perfecting a shape. All that’s left for the viewer is the immensely satisfying final product. There’s a sense that everything is in its right place — each perfectly curved line, each stretched piece of canvas stapled to a laser cut of wood. It’s astonishing to see an artist completely remove the constraints of the medium from the viewer’s mind and leave you only with the art itself. It’s something Rauschenbach has concerned himself with for the past 10-plus years as he’s pursued his labor of abstract love.
“It’s about shedding away the unnecessary things and putting the focus on this one simple almost perfect shape,” says Rauschenbach, surrounded by unfinished pieces for his upcoming exhibition at Red Bull House of Art. “It ends up being more about the mark making and the gesture.”
As a kid growing up in New Zealand, Rauschenbach describes himself as “that kid that was always drawing,” whether it be still lifes of his matchbox car collection or recreating the Batman logo. A poster of New York City hung in his bedroom and, after spending eight years in Japan and bouncing around the globe, Rauschenbach finally landed in Brooklyn. Throughout all the moves, an appreciation for skate culture, graffiti and branding remained consistent themes in his work.
“Throughout the years, I’ve always been making stuff in the creative field whether it was silk screens in the bathroom for t-shirts to stickers and anything else that fit into the skate scene culture,” recalls Rauschenbach.
We recently sat down with Rauschenbach at the Red Bull House of Art to talk about his dedication to crafting a nearly perfect shape, how his early influences remain big influences today and how his residency in Detroit has helped him dive deeper into the arts.
For nearly a decade, you’ve been deconstructing and reconstructing a similar set of abstract shapes in your work. What’s kept you working in that medium?
In the beginning, it was about mark making in the minimalist form — just that simple act of making a mark or a gesture. There’s a lot of different influences there through typography and using positive and negative space. I wanted to make these abstract forms that would have character, too. They’ve been transforming since I’ve started. [During an artist residency in Israel], I started breaking down these compositions into a few shapes — shapes that turned out looking like Chee-tos (laughs). I’ve used those Chee-tos shapes as a vocabulary to create a mood and change the mood of the viewer. Ever since then, they’ve evolved into a more organic way where I used silkscreen to execute the shapes onto whatever surface I’m working. There’s an evolved language there that becomes apparent when a series or new body of work is completed. I’m interested in that language and how abstract shapes — even though they are not words — can still have this universal language to them.
Most artists would feel like they were pushing the boundaries of their work by venturing into a new subject or medium. You’ve focused on similar forms for nearly 10 years and you’ve mentioned that, as an artist, it’s some of your most challenging and satisfying work.
I’ve been trying to see how far I could push one idea. That’s something I’m really interested in, too — a reproduction of a reproduction. At some point, the original gets lost and the reproduction becomes the original and there’s a back and forth there. What is the original? Does it matter? Does it matter if it’s a reproduction? That definitely relates to being influenced by graffiti as a kid — that wow factor and how they would just keep producing the same logo over and over and over again — but that also relates back to branding and logos. There’s something about reproduction, the power of authorship and how far you can push it.
It’s funny how I’m still doing this and still working in this style. Usually, people work in a certain style and they move on… but I’ve kept at it. After seeing the evolution of making something and then having a reaction, people liking it, not liking it — and that need to make it better and more refined and cleaner. It started being very rigid. I would paint a sketch exactly as it was onto a wall. Today, it’s become a lot more organic and free flowing. That’s really exciting to know there’s an evolution of my work.
How has your residency at Red Bull House of Art influenced your ability to push your concentration on these character-driven abstract shapes forward?
When you work in a certain style for a decade, you accumulate a lot of ideas over the years. [At Red Bull House of Art], I have the opportunity to execute some of these ideas. I was always interested in sculpture… and I’m actually going to be working on a metal sculpture this weekend. I went to art school in Japan — it was affiliated with the Parsons School of Design in New York — and even though I was studying communication design, I was often in the product design department making stuff with my hands — small sculptures, things of that nature. 20 years fast forward, now that I have the opportunity to make these ideas a reality, I’m venturing more into a deeper aspect of art making.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper