Open Your Imagination

The Art of Gabriele Raacke

If you could leave the real world behind and enter a surreal universe of whimsy, dreamscapes, and animation, you would find yourself immersed in the art of Gabriele Raacke. 

Yet her images do not reflect a sanitized Disney version of fairy tales but one with more nuanced and folk lore influences. She recounts, “I grew up in the Black Forrest of Germany. We didn’t have a TV so my mother read me Grimm’s Fairy Tales. She also made up her own tales, then she asked me to do that for myself.” When Raacke was completing an apprenticeship required in Germany to be a bookseller she found herself in the place where the Brothers Grimm were born. “When I looked out of the window, I saw their statues in the market place.”

A world traveler, Raacke first came to the East End with her husband in 1986  and fell in love. “We found this incredible land in the woods in East Hampton and we built our own home plus a studio and it took four years.” Their focus on energy efficiency was before its time and led to her husband’s business Renewable Energy Long Island. “It is amazing when I tell my friends we pay $5 for our electricity.”

It was a friend visiting from Brazil, the painter Daniel do Amaral who first inspired her art in the 80’s. She explains, “He came and stayed with us and every night he painted and I watched him and it was fascinating to me. One day he said ‘Why do you always watch me? Here is a brush, why don’t you try.’ I did and it was scary but he never criticized or said what is good or bad. He said, ‘Do it for yourself.’”

Another friend from Cuba was making glass plates for Bergdorf Goodman and asked her help in creating them. That was her introduction to learning how to paint on glass. Raacke now uses a process called reverse painting on glass which dates back to the 18th and 19th century in Germany. This is where the figurative image is painted first on the back of the glass then the background is painted on top of it to create a unique luminance from light reflected in between layers of paint and the glass surface. “A collector who hung my paintings would reverse them depending on his mood,” she says, “Sometimes he wanted to see only the back which was abstract or the front which was figurative so he could move it around.”

Raacke finds much of her inspiration has come from world travels where she describes herself as a “sponge.” She explains, “All the images just come up while I paint. I don’t ever do sketches before. I paint on the back of the glass and if I don’t like it, I just have a razor blade and I take it off. The hardware store was a bit worried about me with all the razor blades,” she adds with a laugh.

You can see the humor in her compositions, and for her the story is very much in the eye of the beholder. “People tell me what they think the story is. Children especially are really free to tell me what they see,” she says, “Mainly I get the comment, ‘They make me very happy.’” Raacke who has exhibited widely on the East End as well as Manhattan and Germany enjoys the solo show experience such as the one she recently had at Ashawagh Hall where audiences can see the process of her work in its full scope.

Raacke also contributes her creativity to the theater world with Kate Mueth’s Neo-Political Cowgirls as well as the East End East Special Players focused on adults with varied needs and abilities. “Once they took five of my paintings and they made a performance out of it. I did not say one word of what I thought. They completely made it up,” she explains, “It was great as I didn’t see it like that. I learned a lot and it was really inspiring.”

Inevitably Raacke will never be pigeon-holed as a one note artist. Her newest project of creating glass menagerie figurines has the entire neighborhood bringing her glass bottles to recycle for her art. Boredom is not an option. “And that is exactly why I do it,” she says.