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Unpeeling the Many Layers of Raffael Bader's Evocative Abstract Landscape Paintings

By Leo Sartain

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Raffael Bader is a German artist whose stunning works monumentalise the beauty, mystery and majesty of nature, while inviting us to consider our relationships with the organic environments that surround us and the emotional affect that they may produce within us. Refusing the purely representational, Bader’s works employ bold colours, winding forms, and exaggerated lines in an attempt to materialise a world which ultimately exists exclusively in his own mind.

Brushes With Greatness has struck gold with Raffael Bader, the Leipzig-based visual artist who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig in 2019. Growing up in rural Germany, he is more at home in the natural landscape than the urban one. Since turning to art, he has endeavoured to travel extensively to further develop his practice, recently spending time in Australia, Asia, and Latin America. In this exhibition Jack Trodd, the curator and founder of BWG, has intelligently brought together a large number of works in a modern space and incorporated an installation of foliage and benches to offer a spot for reprieve. Far more than just visually pleasing images hung in a white-walled space, this show has immense power to insight thoughtful contemplation and emotional response.

This exhibition has many layers, it can be enjoyed by both the culturally curious novice and the seasoned art connoisseur alike. One can simply walk around the space and be gently embraced by the shapes, colours, and moods offered by the works, or perhaps pause and make space for deeper connection and allow the profound affected encased within the pieces on show to take hold. The exhibition title, Roam Inaccessible Paths, and the works themselves can be read literally or metaphorically allowing for a myriad of responses. The artist does not seek to give away the answers by speaking plainly, but instead leads one to ask the right questions, which for me is an indicator of great art.

Raffael Bader’s work takes you on a journey through an imagined landscape that feels oddly familiar and yet foreign all at once. There are elements within each piece that are universally recognisable, whether recalling a scene glanced in passing or a past moment of deep connection with the earth. There are no figures to be seen, this is a purposeful choice intended to invite the viewer to form a direct personal relationship with the scene and create an intimate moment of exchange.

Each piece on show offers a snapshot of a moment, as if one is looking out through a window at a world of abundant nature, exaggerated but not wholly dissimilar from our own. I questioned the artist on whether he found inspiration in fantastical or mythical literature or imagery, and he responded, ‘no, there is enough mysticism in our reality, and it is about tapping into that.’ This notion forced me to consider the paintings more deeply.

Superficially, these works are aesthetically pleasant and unchallenging, with organic, well-balanced shapes, rich textures and soft pastel colours making up the landscape-inspired vistas. However, all is not as it seems. In every work, something is unsettling or disharmonising. You can tell the artist has a great understanding of the rules of colour and composition, for he explores, exploits and deliberately rejects them skilfully in many of the works. What initially appears as a depiction of rural perfection, secretly also implies an intrinsic chaos. A balancing act ensues between harmony and disorder, provoking the viewer to question their own recollections and experiences of the natural world; this can be gleaned from a dab of chromatically jarring paint or an unruly line which disrupts otherwise perfect symmetry.

Bader’s ultimate subject matter, like many artists, is his reality. He takes scenes of rural beauty, and distorts them through his creative and personal lens. Far from being a straightforward process, his practice is a form of alchemy - pushing and pulling, until finally, he manages to imbue the work with the emotional resonances felt on viewing a particular place. He delicately selects colours and mindfully composes the canvas to offer more than aesthetic pleasure, it is about thoughtful provocation and leading the viewer to enter the painting and find a space for reflection. Taken together, this is exactly what the exhibition does – it powerfully removes the viewer from the bustling streets of Shoreditch and allows them to be present in the moment. The soft foliage, gentle music and cool lighting in the gallery all play a part in this. As I ventured around the space there were works that I initially struggled to connect with, and others that I welcomed with open arms. The push and pull of each work kept me focused on my individual experience of the exhibition as a whole and allowed me to roam my own path.

 There is a sense of narration and storytelling also at play, as if viewing moments recorded from an expedition or epic tale writ by a great explorer. This is echoed in the titles of the works, many of which sound like chapter headings in a Tolkien novel; ‘Out of the Woods, Off to the Canyon’, ‘Where Many Things Originate’, and ‘Something Expected in an Unexpected Cave.’ The overall title, Roam Inaccessible Paths, meanwhile encapsulates the entire artistic journey or expedition as a whole. It is multifaceted, indicating both literal inaccessible paths, areas hard to travel such as the difficult terrain of a mountain, and the emotional journeys that may present challenges or feel out of reach. Whether the journey takes place out in the world or inside the self, Bader encourages us to take the first step.

Raffael Bader is an early-career artists gaining quick traction – he came to art organically yet did not always envision himself on this path. He has a unique and compelling voice through which he channels the universal subject of landscape. What stood out the most was Bader’s capacity to find such a voice at such a young age, and through it express himself fully. He lays plain his own psyche and inner world, consequentially provoking the viewer to do the same. Visually his works recall Japanese woodcuts, Fauvism, Expressionism and Romanticism, yet they are decidedly contemporary and unique. On a deeper level, for the viewer who feels a strong connection to nature this exhibition is a must see.

Ultimately, Raffael Bader’s exhibition Roam Inaccessible Paths presented by BWG Gallery creates an entirely esoteric space for connection and reflection, offering a route out of the urban jungle and into a tranquil, meditative and emotional creative landscape.

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