Ralf Weingart
(from catalog "nearby", Schloss Plüschow, 2001)

Udo Rathke’s work endeavors to reflect artistically on the inner and outer experience with nature in an abstract process, and to metaphorically increase its emotional substance. After finishing his studies in printmaking, Rathke freed himself more and more from the figure and any intention of representing objects and space. Completely constructed from color and made on irregular, found fragments of paper, his paintings refuse to depict any concrete or representational reference to an object. He had already discovered landscape as a central compositional method when he was working with printmaking techniques - mostly, cold needle etching. As Miro Zahra writes, he was driven: "by the desire for human fulfillment in harmony with nature”. 1 In the individualized landscape, that is understood as a clear whole, 19th century art not only recalls an evident and increasingly alienated nature as comprehensive, including mankind in its entirety. Rathke’s, as he puts it, "discoveries of universal relationships” 2 take up the concept of landscape in an inner affinity to German Romanticism, but conveys it in self-referential painting. Inspired by the idyllic landscapes of Lorrain and Poussin, older works, in the compositional tectonics of their sensitively balanced concept of color, thoroughly create a pictorial harmony. This eventually fades, while the suggestive atmospheric value of the ever-unfolding landscape of color intensifies. Supported by an empathetic sensibility, the general atmospheric quality experienced in nature seems to correlate with fundamental situations. His preferred comparatively small format works invite the eye for meditative contemplation. In the tension of the genuine, even emphasized materiality of the paint, existential works are created that seem removed from time, and joggle the present, the past and the future into an idea of mystic duration.
Picking up on the stimulus of Per Kirkeby, the principle of layering and penetration of transitional as well as contrasting paint structures reflects the search for a naturally grown shape and allows freedom for an accidental occurrence. Graffiti-like line engravings that recall the vehement line of etchings become more and more scriptural, activate the creative potential of destruction and evoke in the interruption of the painted surfaces, enliven and vitalize as well as damage and hurt. They aim at the elimination of a unity of imagery, refer - similar to a colorful darkness - to the threatening, destructive side of inner and outer nature, attest to a crisis-like consciousness about the impossibility of human existence within a conflict-free harmony.
In the new work, the association of the landscape becomes more fleeting, less definite, the interest in composition decreases, as does any spatial indications and the flow of linear registrations becomes softer and more gestural. Limiting himself to a few, evenly distributed, rich nuances of color, above all blue - the color of desire, as such - produces an almost monochrome quality that works with grades of tonal values, like printmaking. In addition to works on paper that are austere and coolly bright, there are dark, mysterious works that are restrained, darkly over-painted, where memory seems to fade, and others that create a beguiling appeal of color - in this case, mostly an incredibly intense ultramarine. As its counterpart, the increasing use of graphite seals the surfaces in a metallic sheen or becomes materialized light that lies on the surface like a thin sheet of lead.
Concentrating on the minimal creates the succinct color effects of a suggestive atmosphere. Torn and irregular edges and sharp edged holes - traces of wounds while working with the painting knife - allow the substance-material, fragmentary quality of the thin, paint encrusted sheet of paper to become a metaphor for relic-like traces of memory and perception. With the three part series, Landschaft (Landscape) I-III, 2001, Rathke finds in a more monumental format, a freer vastness and increases at the same time, the emotional intensity of the colorful accords to an allegorical, existential validity and density.
For several years, Rathke has also experimented with the compositional possibilities offered by the computer as a medium of painting with other materials. His most recent computer generated work, Nach Lorrain conjures up the romantic desire of the individual subject for the mystical unity of man and nature -at least still attainable in art - referred to in a classical idyllic landscape by Claude Lorrain. In other words, in the awareness of a double loss. In the paradoxical hope for a renewed possibility of a fleeting repeal in art, Radke creates in recourse to tradition. Still, in its spotty fusing into an amorphous dream image, quoting art history preserves the ornamental beauty of the ultimate image like a distant echo and revives its magical light, now transformed, into a delicate succession of color. In a slow, endless flow of time, the painting process of layering the paint becomes a real metamorphosis that, in the use of the most modern technique, invokes natural processes of suggestive richness of atmosphere.