The German word Landschaft a precursor of landscape originally denoted the totality of people that populated a country. It was not until later that it took on the geographic meaning that led, primarily through its representation in painting, to the landscape becoming the epitome of emotionally charged contemplation. Both of these meanings come together in Rainer Fettings playful title Manscapes that of the pleasurable study of beautiful forms and colours, and that of a multiplicity of people, men in particular. The pictures of men, painted between 1974 and 2010 and assembled in the exhibition at the Kunsthalle Tübingen
invite us to take a stimulating look at them as well as a closer look at Rainer Fettings oeuvre. He first became famous for the part he played in founding the legendary Galerie am Moritzplatz in 1977 and for his participation in epochal group exhibitions, for instance the show »Heftige Malerei« in 1980 at the Haus am Waldsee in Berlin, or the two large-scale synoptic exhibitions »New Spirit in Painting« at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1981 and »Zeitgeist« at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin in 1982. The label »New Savages«, which has stuck with the now 60-year-old painter ever since, only applies in part. Fetting was familiar with the German expressionists, regarded as the predecessors of this movement, from the bookshelves of his parents home in Wilhelmshaven. The influence is palpable, yet, as he says himself, he »removed« it to a large extent from his paintings in order to bring them closer to »photorealism«: »There is no sky that is purple to that degree.« The unobstructed, spontaneous qualities associated with the New Savages only apply to a limited extent to Fetting: the artist, who currently works in Berlin and on the island of Sylt, admits that he does not fabricate »gestural, gut-feeling paintings or the like«.
If we attentively trace his brushstrokes we encounter a very deliberate use of a variety of painterly means. Fetting has no typical modus operandi. Sometimes the colour paste is applied dripping wet, sometimes dry and crumbly, sometimes it is forced into shape by means of clear contours, and at other times erratically mixed, juxtaposed in careful hatched strokes, or blended in gentle transitions. In this way, the viewer is confronted time and again with the miracle of painting: that »a little bit of coloured dust on coarse canvas«, as the great art historian Ernst Gombrich once said, is capable of creating something like an illusion.
Fetting manages to maintain the precarious balance of, on the one hand, keeping the painting media and the act of painting visible, and, on the other hand, allowing the application of paint to bear meaning. It is precisely this unsealed gap between representing surface and represented content that encourages us to see more in the painting: a feeling, meaning, content. Fetting does not formulate his pictorial ideas conceptually; rather, he takes them, as he says, »from his brains visual storehouse«. Some of the components stem from his own life, such as the paintings of his associates Salomé, Desmond Cadogan, or Frank Copello. Others, however, stem from the collective visual memory of our culture: the antique standing contrapposto, the classical subject of the bathing youth, the softie with a bouquet of flowers, the dangerous thug, the tragic movie hero, the kissing couple, or the man in drag. Even political personalities make an appearance in the form of the bronze sculptures of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. Bodies are also always placed in urban contexts, for the most part Fettings Berlin and New York domiciles. His paintings of men also contain women, such as Kate Moss at Pete Dohertys side, or the monumental painting of a womans head that functions as a calming landscape between powerful full-body nudes. Manscapes clearly demonstrates that Fetting has been consistently pursuing the theme of the male image since 1974 and that he is to be credited with bringing the various facets of male eroticism and identity into focus. This achievement is all the more remarkable, as the perversion of the ancient ideal of male beauty by Leni Riefenstahl or Arno Breker had caused the male nude to fall into oblivion. It was not until the 1970s, at the same time as homosexual lifestyles became more widely accepted, that the beautiful man found its way back into art. One of the most internationally prominent representatives of this renaissance of maleness is Rainer Fetting. His intense contact with the American art scene, which sets the tone in this genre, is demonstrated in the exhibition by a picture by Andy Warhol and a photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe from the artists own collection.