Untitled (Landscape B), 1974, etching by Hans-Georg Rauch.
Untitled (Landscape B), 1974, etching by Hans-Georg Rauch.

Hans-Georg Rauch was a German artist, who created beautifully intricate drawings in the 1970s and 80s. In 1981, when he was 42 years old—three years younger, I just realized, than I am now—he had a retrospective at the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hannover, Germany. This is important, because it’s where he met my father. My dad was doing the bookkeeping for the museum, based on a chance encounter with the museum’s director. They were in neighboring hospital beds in the early 70s, and their chats led to a 20-year collaboration.

I digress. My dad met Rauch at the museum. He loved his drawings, and bought two of his prints. I don’t know what he paid for them, but I know my dad was young then, and it was surely a non-trivial investment for him. One print showed giant raindrops dissolving a cathedral, the other was a stand of three birches.

The birches are nice enough. It’s a calm little scene and may not seem like much to you.

Look closer.

Still closer.

Detail of Untitled (Landscape B), 1974, etching by Hans-Georg Rauch.
Detail of Untitled (Landscape B), 1974, etching by Hans-Georg Rauch.

Notice anything?

The leaves are made of faces.

And so are the tree trunks.

And the hillside.

The entire scene is made up of the wrinkled and distorted faces of grumpy old men. To the little boy I was, once I saw the faces, it was an explosion that shattered the top of my skull, letting big shafts of light beam right into my brain.

This print, which now hangs right by my desk, showed me that not everything has to be what it seems, and often isn’t. It taught me to look closely at everything, and it taught me to put details everywhere, so people who care can find them.

Rauch’s birch trees were my Big Bang.

Rauch died in 1993 at the brutally young age of 54. He was appreciated in his lifetime, but far from a rockstar artist. He deserves to be remembered by those who knew of him, and discovered by those who don’t.

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