Cameron Tauschke composes allegories of modern life, of our contemporary existence. The pictures tell of planning and construction, of the search for the right path. They show how we humans want to consciously shape our existence, but at the same time are like figures in a puppet show. Love, music and imaginative ornaments stand for the beautiful sides of a way of life whose transience nature is always obvious, whose darkness must be illuminated by a lot of light.
The pictures seem like an experimental set-up: How do people behave under the conditions of modernity with its rapid changes? The scenery is the city, the urban culture, which is constantly evolving: Metamorphpolis is the title of one series. At the same time, the setting resembles a laboratory in which the behavior of us humans is observed like on a stage with an audience. It is as if an invisible magnifying glass hovers over all this.
There is a tennis player standing on a podium: is she laughing or crying? Does winning mean joy or sorrow? Eroticism and sensuality are hinted at – but the pleasure seems to be rather suppressed, the characters stand close together, and yet there is a great distance between them. Some are masked, and the hands that interlock are so different that they hardly fit together. Are the people not allowed to come closer to each other, or do they not want to?
Tauschke uses the techniques of collage and assemblage: the often multi-figured pictures are composed of several scenes that at first glance hardly belong together. There is the street scene next to the laboratory, the modern designer armchair next to the old lantern. The artist even stitched one work together from several individual, thematically different canvases. Whether the pieced-up pictures make sense in the end is something everyone has to decide for themselves – just as everyone has to put together the fragments of their own lives to form a meaningful whole. Which, as we all know, is not always successful.
As contemporary as the allegories of modern life are, they go back a long way. Next to the prime examples of Bauhaus architecture stands the Gothic cathedral; an entire series – Gothic Fingers – is named after a non-existent contemporary film on the Middle Ages, conceived by the artist, and a series of drawings, Headstones, shows stone sculptures from churches, heads with expressively torn open mouths. They are figures that leap across time and space: They are firmly embedded in Gothic architecture and in their expressive power they seem like very lively beings of today.
The motif of the bell also connects the epochs, it stands for time and death: the Bell Towers series refers also to Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. Death is clearly in sight when – in the blue Bell Tower of 2018 – the head of a bandaged female figure merges into a skull.
Let’s stay for a moment with the artistic-spiritual relations of the artist: it is a wide arc that he draws. His term “gothic” stands not only for the Middle Ages, but also for the post-punk subculture that emerged around 1980 with its fascination with death and transience. It also refers to the gothic novel, the horror story of the romantic era, for which the figure of Frankenstein is an example: Don’t the bandaged figures in the blue Bell Tower from 2018 look like the monster in Mary Shelley’s novel? The artist also mentions the Romantic Caspar David Friedrich as a stimulus, as well as Indian and Islamic miniature painting with their additively composed narratives in clearly structured, manageable scenes and finely embellished ornaments.
allegories of modern life
Other tracks lead to the naturalism and realism of the 19th century, one thinks for example of Courbet and van Gogh with their religiously heightened depictions of the arduous peasant life. Another point of reference is Surrealism as well as the New Objectivity and the socially critical Magic Realism of the 1920s with Dix and Grosz, for example. Finally, the torn posters or wallpapers refer to the artists of the Décollage in the existentialist 1950s.
Cameron Tauschke seeks the supertemporal, the eternally valid “condition humaine” (André Malraux, René Magritte) of life. For this he uses allegories, metaphors, symbols. Each figure, each small scene stands for an aspect of life, we do not want to enumerate them, they are easy to recognize. Let us mention only one figure by Hieronymus Bosch, a hooded greedy swindler who reaches out from the “underground” to hand a bag full of stolen goods. Bosch’s period, like the Baroque thereafter, was a heyday of allegory, always with a moralizing, educational intention.
Likewise, the theatrum mundi in the Renaissance and Baroque is a metaphor for the vanity and futility of the world. Tauschke’s pictures are a theatrum mundi of the present. He renounces the raised forefinger, because God, the firm point of reference in earlier centuries, is largely absent from our lives, we have little more than our conscience, our morality – and something moralizing is certainly contained in these pictures. The artist asks: Is everything we do right, each one for himself and the world as a whole? The question of whether we have the freedom to decide about our own lives is almost superfluous: the figures appear to be the actors in a puppet show, where one wonders who is pulling the strings…
As in life, work also plays an important role in these paintings. The serial office buildings point to the most widespread form of work in the age of employees. The range of professions that Cameron Tauschke invokes extends from worker to doctor, from miner to researcher in the futuristic laboratory, where one explores “what holds the world together at its core” (was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält), as Goethe’s “Faust” puts it. Like the alchemist in earlier times, the scientist wants to create a new man – Frankenstein sends his regards.
Next to him the architect stands as the creator par excellence: he builds our world. Although there are some truly innovative designs in the pictures, like original houses of the 1920s, the uniformity of most of the buildings suggests that we humans are all constructed more or less according to the same pattern. The monochrome coloration of individual series of pictures – green-grey, blue, yellow – adopts this idea; the nuances within the given basic color have the effect of an attempt to break through the given pattern. The lively brushwork and the free color gradient with drops and stripes on the monochrome surfaces point in the same direction.
The 1920s Bauhaus years were also a prime time of utopia, of the idea that the future can be perfectly shaped with a grand design. The fifties and sixties, referred to with some furniture and ornamental patterns, were similarly believers in the future, but the ever-identical buildings based on the designs of the International Style also indicate the failure of the visions.
From the 1920s it is a short journey into the Middle Ages, a period that Cameron Tauschke addresses time and again, among others with his series Gothic Fingers and Bell Towers. It is worth remembering that the “Bauhaus Manifesto” was adorned by Lyonel Feiniger’s vision of a Gothic cathedral. The metaphor of light, characterized by the motif of the crystal-shaped lamp, also applied to the Middle Ages in the same way as to the early Bauhaus. So it is no coincidence that the old-fashioned chandelier stands next to this crystal light and the powerful laboratory and architectural lamps.
The lamps are a symbol for illumination, for light in the dark in a double sense, a symbol for the search for the right way in the darkness. Traditionally, religion is responsible for this. The term skylight, which the artist mentions in conversation, refers to the light that comes from above, in the traditional sense a light of transcendence. The figure crouching on the ground in Play of Contrasts, our first work, carries a tombstone on its back that vaguely suggests a Gothic Madonna motif, and is crowned by a hand pointing to heaven.
Finally and ultimately it is the preoccupation with TIME that characterizes these allegories of modern life. Much of what we have said so far points to this. The passing of time is for the artist also the passing of life, of matter. The dissolving wallpapers, also the dripping paint on the canvas are symbolic of this. The most distinct symbol is the bell, which punctually indicates the passing of time and finally, as a death bell, the end of life, the end of individual time.
Our last and most recent painting, again entitled Bell Tower, presents a man on the threshold of old age. He is hung with two bells, and he looks thoughtfully: his surroundings, the things that usually make a person up – one might think: his life so far – all this is torn apart, he is thrown back on himself.
The man – certainly a self-portrait of the artist – looks back on his life: What was there? What was I? What remains, who am I? With this self-interrogation, Cameron Tauschke joins the great tradition of introspective self-portraits in Western painting. And even if one would not immediately want to equate the Australian artist with a Rembrandt or Vincent van Gogh, these giants do show the framework within which Cameron Tauschke operates.
Some of Cameron Tauschke’s paintings you can see in our digital exhibition New Additions.
For the artist’s most recent exhibition please go to Neun Görlitz, and you might also visit his Instagram site. If you like his work you might also be interested in these artists in our gallery: Alexandra Baumgartner, Joanna Buchowska, Boris Eldagsen, Janes Haid-Schmallenberg, Christine Krämer, Florian Pelka and Aaron Rahe.
Cameron Tauschke was born 1971 in Melbourne, Australia. He lives and works in Berlin.
He studied at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology where he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Art in Painting in 1992. This was supplemented by the Diploma of Visual Arts Education at The Australian Catholic University Melbourne in 2006.
Since 1992, Tauschke has had a large number of solo and group shows in commercial galleries, artists spaces and public institutions, particularly in Melbourne, Leipzig and Berlin.
Among his prizes and awards is the residency of the Leipzig International Studio Programme, Spinnerei, in 2011.
For a complete biography please see the artist’s website.