Georg Rauch was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 14 February 1924, and lived thirty years in Jocotepec, on the mountainside overlooking Lake Chapala, prior to his death on 3 November 2006.
Rauch had an adventurous early life. His memoirs (translated from their original German by his wife, Phyllis), described his wartime experiences. They were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. The memoirs are based on 80 letters sent home from the Russian trenches telling how Rauch, despite being officially classified as one-quarter Jewish, was drafted into Hitler’s army at age 19 in 1943 and sent to the Russian front. He was captured and spent 18 months in a Russian POW camp, where he contracted bone tuberculosis. After the war, Rauch spent two years recovering in Stolzalpe, an alpine sanatorium.
Rauch studied architecture for two years and life drawing with Professor Bőckl at the Akademie der bildenden Kűnste in Vienna, and was encouraged by his mother to pursue a career as an artist. He was awarded travel scholarships by the Austrian government. He exhibited and became a member of the prestigious artists’ association, Wiener Secession, and soon was showing his paintings in Vienna, Paris, London, Germany and Scandinavia.
In 1966 Rauch married his soul mate Phyllis Porter in Ohio. The couple, who had met in Vienna, lived briefly in New York before returning to Vienna in the winter of 1966/67, because Georg had been commissioned to produce the main sculpture for the Austrian Pavilion at the upcoming Montreal World Expo (1967).
In summer 1967, the Rauchs, together with fellow artists Fritz Riedl and his girlfriend (later wife) Eva, spent two months driving through Mexico, as far south as Tehuantepec. On their return trip north, the group stopped off in Guadalajara to visit the Austrian consul. The consul, an architect, purchased several watercolors completed during the trip, as well as 4 or 5 oil paintings that Rauch had with him. In the fall of 1967, the Rauchs returned to Guadalajara when the consul commissioned a sculpture for a shopping center being built in the city. The Rauchs remained in Guadalajara until 1970.
In 1968, Rauch was invited to do a series of posters for the Guadalajara Committee of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Mexico City had commissioned its own Olympics posters, but Rauch was responsible for all the posters produced in Guadalajara). One of these Olympics posters is mentioned in Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, during a description of a living room in Ajijic. Another Rauch poster (not of the Olympics) would later feature in the movie 10 (1979) starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, shot on location at the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo. And yet another Rauch poster was once shown in an episode of the TV series Ironside.
It was during their stay in Guadalajara, that Rauch first met artist and photographer John Frost, who had a studio in Jocotepec and would later introduce Rauch to some of the finer points of silk-screening.
The Rauchs spent most of the next six years (1970-1976) in Laguna Beach, California, where Phyllis headed the San Clemente Public Library and Georg participated in the city’s famous Pageant of the Masters. Georg made several yearly visits to Puerto Vallarta, where his work was regularly shown in Galeria Lepe, the resort town’s only art gallery at the time. (This is where Rauch drew portraits of both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as Liz’s son Christopher Wilding.)
In 1974, the Rauchs purchased property in Jocotepec and began to build their future home and studio. They moved into their (as-yet unfinished) home, designed by Georg, in October 1976. Rauch had finally found a place he could call home, and he would remain here for thirty years, painting a succession of expressionist oils, watercolors and silk screens, as well as building several extraordinary kinetic sculptures. Rauch was a prolific artist (completing more than 2000 oils in his lifetime), driven to paint, and to paint “only that which he needed and wanted to express.”
In December 1976, Rauch had work in a group show organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram for the Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism, held at Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) in Puerto Vallarta. The show ran from 4-21 December and also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Jim Marthai; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; and Sylvia Salmi.
His clown-faced self-portraits bored deep into his soul. The influence of Lake Chapala was clear in many of his haunting and sensuous Mexican landscapes. On the other hand, his watercolors revealed his particularly keen sense of observation and his delicate touch. (Of course, I’m biased because I chose a Georg Rauch watercolor of Ajijic as the cover art for my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, first published by Editorial Agata in 1993).
Georg Rauch was a consummate professional artist, one who was sufficiently successful throughout his career to live by his art alone. In conversation, he would sometimes interject a truly outrageous statement, but his wry sense of humor masked a considerable political perspicuity and an intense desire to interrogate the world around him.
In the 1980s, Georg and Phyllis Rauch expanded their home and opened the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas, where Phyllis continued to welcome visitors, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.
Georg Rauch’s work can be found in the collections of many major international museums. His numerous exhibitions include:
- 1952 Konzerthaus in Vienna (first solo exhibition); and the Kűnstlerclub, Vienna.
- 1953 to 1968 : London; París; Stuttgart; Vienna; Dusseldorf.
- 1968 New York (Gallery York)
- 1968, 1970 Galería Lepe, Puerto Vallarta
- 1973 Toronto; Los Angeles
- 1975 Guadalajara: Galería Pere Tanguy
- 1977 Ajijic (Galeria del Lago)
- 1979 Mexico D.F. (Alianza Francesa)
- 1980, 1989 Puerto Vallarta (Galeria Uno)
- 1982 Tucson, Arizona (Davis Gallery); Acapulco Convention Center
- 1983 Guanajuato (University of Guanajuato)
- 1984 Mexico City (Galeria Ultra)
- 1986 Aarau, Switzerland
- 1987 San Miguel de Allende
- 1988 Guadalajara (major retrospective at Instituto Cultural Cabañas)
- 1990 Munich (2)
- 2000 Guadalajara (Ex-Convento del Carmen)
- ???? Guadalajara (Galería Vertice) year-long traveling show, called Austrian Artists in Mexico, including works by Rauch, Fritz Riedl, Ginny Riedl and others.
- 2007 Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)
- 2014-2015 Guadalajara (Palacio del Gobierno del Estado); Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)
For more images of works by Georg Rauch, see Georg Rauch: Artist in Mexico gallery.
Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.
Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).