Rauch: harsh, cold, searching, keen-eyed, noticing, shouting

My proposal for the artist residency and fellowship here in Berlin orientates to process. Rather than promising to produce a particular body of work, I have commited to a process. The process starts from "voyages of discovery", moving around the city with an artist's active attention. camera and sketchbook. Then playing with the material back in the studio on a re-creative voyage with paint, drawing and collage. A blog post will be part of the process for some voyages, reflecting on the journey and the emotions it produced.

The first voyage was to find an exhibition of paintings by Neo Rauch. A contemporary painter from Leipzig, I had heard about him and the artists who gather around him in his city. Posters on street furniture announce the exhibition. Google maps and Citymapper app show me how to get there.

The M48 bus on a Sunday morning takes longer to arrive than promised by the electronic sign. It takes me, for 2.70 euros, through the city, over the river and towards Alexanderplatz. I get off just before, where I see a sign to Prenzlauerberg, with a groundless confidence that this is my direction. I walk, past Hackescher Markt station and the desperate-looking restaurants outside it, past Hackescher Hof with its smart shops selling upmarket non-necessities for adults, and the restaurant where I remember the lovely B. insisting on buying lunch for me and my friend. How guilty I felt – I should have insisted on paying for her but that internal twisting shyness froze my words before I could utter them. I resolve to buy her lunch soon, to repay, to make amends. I walk on.

I take what feels like the right direction, follow a street that feels good. Always alert for safety, but no need. A father cycles past with his toddler in a wooden box on wheels attached to the front of the bike. At the corner, a shop with high windows and on a rail, a line of little tutus, net skirts some with bodices, pastel colours, pinks blues and apricots. With one, as if liberated, high up. Underneath, on the window sill, another line. This time of little boots, the soft fabric, bulky ugg-like boots, waterproof and sensible. The colours neoprene-hard blues and bright pinks. The combination stops me in my tracks and I walk back across the road to take a photo. The father with the toddler in the bike box turns around and comes back down the street, telling her forcibly to sit down, stopping until she does so. I wonder if it’s the first time and they are trying it out, working out the rules.

The combination of boots and tutus says – you can dance and feel lovely like a little butterfly, then you can put on your boots to tramp safely through the dark wet streets to your warm home. You can fly and you can walk, and ride in a bicycle box.

I pass a shop that sells the shampoos and body creams that I found in the expensive hotel in Switzerland. I am choosy nowadays and often leave the little bottles in hotel bathrooms, when they clearly look as if they were chosen for economy. These, though, were soft and sweet-smelling, worth bringing away. I find a café to stop, and eat ‘Canadian pancakes’, drink coffee, feel grateful for cafes. The waiters, all young women, are a bit ditsy, or perhaps hungover like many of their customers; they forget my second coffee and the milk I asked for in the first one. There is wi-fi so I can find myself on Citymapper and see I am not too far from the brewery, although the dots it puts on the street map are so big there is room for error.

And I walk on, crossing a large road, turning up a hill. Past large elegant apartment buildings that must have passed through the DDR period. I wonder how that worked. At the end of the road, red-leaved trees rise up. It is not the brewery but a park. I ask a woman and she directs me to the exhibition. Back down the hill, on to Prenzlauer Allee, a vast dual carriageway of a road - very ‘east’, a very stalinist statement of power. Eventually, the brewery entrance. A security man sitting outside under a makeshift shelter points towards a door. When I come out, his colleague is sticking up one of the posters near the door and I guess they got tired of telling each new arrival where to go. The brewery is quite dilapidated, ochre bricks with reddish borders, arched around the windows.

Inside the valves and pipes remain, the thick wooden floorboards with metal plates and covers. It’s barely lit and still not evident where to go. Suddenly, strings of crystals hang over shiny washbasins, large arrangements of gladioli – it’s like walking through the cloakroom of an expensive restaurant. I think it actually is the cloakroom for the upstairs ‘soup kitchen’. A large crocodile seems to leap out of more pipework.

Around a corner and there are paintings on the walls, a modish young woman sitting at a table busy with her phone. I am allowed to take photos – natürlich! Not at all natürlich, I think, remembering London galleries.

A few very large paintings and some smaller prints. Restricted colours, dry, acidic blues and greens and yellows, highlighted against the browns. Desperate scenes, judging by the faces of the characters and the suggestions of violence. Not pleasant to spend time looking at. Not easy to find the narratives inside the paintings. Several corners of the gallery have chairs or sofas, I note. Comfort, discomfort. A 1970s steel chair provides a squeaky seat outside. I write down my impressions of the paintings, “They feel harsh, cold, searching, keen-eyed, noticing, shouting.”

Down the hill towards Alexanderplatz, I find a bus stop and get back on the M48 towards Schöneberg. First voyage accomplished.

Later I read about how, when east and west Germany were united, Rauch tried moving away from figurative painting to abstract painting, which was then more fashionable in the west, and how he found the results so dissatisfying that he returned to his figures and folk tales and history. I keep noticing acid blues and greens.