I will make a self-portrait. Since I want to renew my artistic process, I will try to make a self-portrait without knowing where to land. I want it to be a an 'inner' self-portrait—as how I perceive myself—more than creating a likeness. But I want to recognise myself in it. I took some pictures of myself, just as a scan, but I will not use them for measuring purposes. I look tired and worn out, (picture) I think it shows that I have carried a slight depression these last months, I experience myself as fairly fresh though, in contrast to how I look. This portrait is meant as supplement to this text.
I don't know where to start. I am thinking of Lehmbruch, Modigliani and at the works of Hans Josephsohn. (pictures) But actually I want to work as I do in my drawings: simply start and see where I end up. Maybe this is the way to go, since as long as I continue with mimesis, I will always relate to these references.
It is interesting that I immediately come to the works I did at the EKWC.
I start where I left off: a sort of rough sketchy form without too many details. Unmistakably a face, but that is easy: if you take a potato and punch two holes in it, you also have a face. But I consider the 'inner self-portraits' of 12 years ago no longer as 'inner'. Roughly they were based upon pictures that I interpreted in a very loose way, but merely the fact that I didn't make any details doesn't bring introspection into these portraits.
I am actually quite depressed. I didn't only make myself to thinking that I have an artistic block, I am also depressed because I fear that I loose peoples interest in my work. The latter is directly caused by the lack of interest I find for my series "French Children of the Holocaust", a series in which I was very engaged and had a lot of confident. (pictures) Despite trying hard to interest diverse institutions in this series, in Sweden and abroad, I have not succeeded at all. That I feel that am stuck in my process, might have its origin in the highly specific and narrowly defined working method I have engaged myself in. I can dwell in my technical skills and I can evoke an emotional response, both in myself and my audience–which is truly wonderful–but I feel that I am blocked. Some years ago I felt a lot of space in my process, I could find new angles all the time. Now it only feels as a limitation that I have specialised myself so very much and this might also limit me in making other people interested in it.
I have worked for two days with my self-portrait. What irritates me is that I am constantly checking if the form is anatomically correct, while I am not aiming for that. This is deeply rooted in my system.
I feel that I am failing in what I actually want: to make a self portrait that has an introspective emotional presence. But I am probably expecting too much too soon. As I am doing now, I could rather focus on a realistic self-portrait, since I seam not to be ripe for making a portrait that is about an inner life instead of outer appearance.
I can't do what I want and I don't want to do what I can.
Is this project only successful if the outcome is positive? If I succeed in the renewal of my process? What will I do if I can't? If in the end I have to conclude that I am still stuck in my way of working and that I did not succeed in liberating myself from my limitations? And, how do I actually know that I have succeeded? The main assumption of this text is that I feel limited because I work in the specific way. In that sense the only positive outcome can be that I feel free to make a portrait in a different way, or that I start to make another type of work.
Maybe I am looking in the wrong direction searching for the renewal of my process, maybe I should recontextualize my art instead.
What is important for me in art?
I want art to make an emotional claim on me.
Art that is foremost concept and detached from an emotional content, art that has its focus in a merely intellectual story telling and is presented in a form that keeps a distance to the audience, even if it is well performed, doesn't really interest me. I take notice of it, but I don't care for it. I take it for granted. Art that is taken for granted fails. For example Alexander Gutke's exhibition at Malmö Konsthall in 2012: well conceived and flawlessly performed, this exhibition had a fascinating conceptual clarity and a beautiful visual form, but was mainly referring to this form. It was art about the act of looking, art for arts sake. Which made me I ask myself: "Can art be free of any value? Can it 'just' be the art of looking?" Obviously it can, as this exhibition proved. It was an interesting show, yet for me it was interesting at best. I want to meet art that deals with real life topics, art that touches me on deeper grounds. I can enjoy art that is utmost form or concept—like I enjoyed Gutke's exhibition—but that I seek is art that touches me on an emotional level.
This also is my feeling about the works of Olafur Eliasson, often well conceived and sometimes spectacular in it's performance, but to me no more then a showcase of natural phenomenon, a physicians trick box, emotionally flat. (picture) How different is the work of Wolfgang Laib: with the simple display of natural materials like beeswax, milk or rapeseed pollen he evokes a very sensitive, ephemeral and emotional awareness, triggering a contemplative mindset. (picture)
Art that has made deep impact on me often focusses on a psychological experience and, now that I think of, it is often made by female artists. In 1996 I saw an exhibition of the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz in Copenhagen, especially her colossal, almost abstract bodies and body parts had a staggering impact on me that lasted for days. (pictures)
At the Venice Biennale 2013, Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere also made an overwhelming impact on me with a work called "Cripplewood". It kept me for hours in the Belgian pavilion. To me this work communicated strongly on a physical and atmospheric level; it was neither a gimmick as some of the other works at the Biennale, nor was it conceived-invented-conceptualised-intellectual, nor was it about its formal form (i.e. technique, form or color), on the contrary, it was providing an experience that surpasses all superficial experiences and brought me (at least me) in a state of highly physical consciousness, where I found myself intuitively connected to the work.
It was a immense work, covering almost the entire Belgian pavilion: casts in wax of a huge tree trunk and branches, made in a way that the attention was led away from its formal aspects. In the main hall of the Belgian pavilion lay a gigantic corpus mutilum, a racked corporeal presence, pulled forth from its cave where it had been mutilated and humiliated, for information purposes only it was displayed to the public, beheaded and limbless. Its flesh and blood was represented by twigs and branches. There was not one single way to escape this work emotionally. The branches served as arms and hair dragged behind the torso, blood staunched from wounds that were bound with dirty cloth, this body was patched up.
The room was darkened–when you entered it, it took some time for the eyes to adjust. The walls were smudged, the only (roof) window veiled. Light was reduced to an extent that only dark brownish and greenish greys were visible. Thereby the whole room referred to the paintings of the Reichsdag of Anselm Kiefer with its dripping walls. (picture) Once you got close to this corpus mutilum you could see faint blueish and reddish veins shimmer under a pale skin.
I have not worshiped this installation, nor was I paralysed by it, but I have contemplated it for hours, scrutinised every detail, perceived it emotionally and I was enlightened by it as I felt that this installation had recalibrated my value system for art. If I could only get a little bit closer to this experience in my own work…! What do I need to change so that I can reach a deeper ground that is more emotional, intuitive and physical? I wish I could reach the same the emotional depths as Berlinde De Bruyckere. To me this was the ultimate art experience, worth every penny of my trip to Venice.
I realise that art made as or in the context of Artistic Research, often has a remote appearance, detached from the raw intuitive approach that I seek in art. Which makes me doubt if Artistic Research is something for me in the first place. I got hooked on writing in my previous project and I think it is interesting to contemplate and articulate my process, but that is something one hardly can call Artistic Research—although it appears to me that I use this writing instrumentally to gain knowledge about my process!
As I want to do something else, I start with a new series of drawings.
If I don't work with mimesis—like in these drawings—I end up at a very elementary level. The only thing that remains is a sort of intuitive color fields (pictures). It helps me that I don't have to take notice of any form of representation, so I don't get stressed because I think I can't draw. Anyhow, I feel that I can transcribe my sensibility to the paper, giving me an emotional relief through the act of drawing. This can be an almost spiritual experience and creates in me a feeling of longing for drawing as a physical activity, more than I ever experience with sculpture.
It is a very restricted format that I work in: a drawing 24 x 15 cm, divided by a horizontal line in two color fields (picture). I let the color emerge and build it up by layer upon layer of soft pastels. I don't work according to a color theory or other system, it is purely what my intuition brings to me. For now I want saturated colors. Sometimes I try to make the color field even, sometimes I don't.
I see a connection with work from the early 1990s: aquarelles with very saturated colors. (picture) I realise that I have not come any further since then. But what to expect? I have not worked with colors in 20 years, I have to start where I left off. I don't know if that is good or bad. This is where I find myself now.
I think of Jem Southam, the English landscape photographer, who visits and revisits specific sites for years in a row, building a multilayered narrative photographic oeuvre that comes about in a very slow and meditative process, creating time for reflection on the process itself and its outcome. I find this is a highly appealing approach. “Regarding my strategy, well that’s simple. Once fixed on a site, I revisit it regularly, and gradually assemble a body of work that is a response to a slow absorption of the site, through the making of photographs, as well as through discussions that I have with those who live nearby, the examination of maps and other documents that relate to it, and so on.” (Seesaw Magazine, 2005)
A new drawing with a low horizon and shifting colors (picture). I think of color shifts in a clear sky, just before the sun rises: from very light to dark ultramarine. (picture) I keep a watch out for changes in the sky and the light it brings us and I have started to take pictures, as reference and inspiration just as I did when I was drawing clouds and smoke in 2012-2013 (picture).
If I work from introspection rather than mimesis, these very elementary color fields remain. Is this the very core of my art and is all the figurative work I have done over the years just a distraction from this core? From me?
It is a contemplative work that brings me in a corresponding state of mind that I highly appreciate. It is slow, introvert and attentive and fits me just fine.
As Mental Space
As a Meditative Place
What is the emotional impact on me if I make these drawings?
I have made a few drawings with an aspect ratio of 24 x 15 cm, which is about the so called Golden Ratio. I have divided this drawing into a square of 15 x 15 on top of a field of 9 x 15 cm.
A new aspect ratio I want to try: 22.5 x 15, with a square of 15 x 15 on top and half a square 7.5 x 15 at the bottom. I'll give some calculations:
15 x 15 = 225
22.5 = 15 + 15 / 2
22.5 / 1.5 = 15
3 x 7.5 (height) + 2 x 7.5 (width)
Numerically a good fit and I like the looks of it too. (picture)
Interesting: as I do not use external references, like a form of mimesis as in my sculpture, I seam to need an external grip, a framework, it is difficult to just start. But of coarse, I need to start with something. There has to be a decision of some kind.
22.5 x 15, the difference with 24 x 15 is minimal, but 22.5 x 15 feels just a little better than 24 x 15, which I now find too long.
I've just decided that 22,5 x 15 is a better aspect ratio than 24 x 15 and I will adjust all the drawings from this year accordingly. Some of these drawings I cut for the second time.
These drawings have not a striking presence, on the contrary, they have a very low profile. They are like small scale finger exercises to make myself acquainted with soft pastels, a material I have hardly ever used before. The drawings work just fine as they are.
I think of the work of Antonio Calderara (1903-1978). One of the first works of art that I purchased was a screen print of him (picture). His later work is so minimalistic, ephemeral and subtle that it nearly vanishes from this world.
22,5 x 15 and two color fields. I have defined where to divide the paper. It works like a horizon. The color scheme is subtle. For now I am trying to get as subtle as it can be. The color doesn't have to be evenly distributed over the paper. I am after the color shifts in a cloudless sky. But I will also make drawings with color fields that are even. I use my hands to distribute the pastel pigments on the paper. I start with white and built up a nuanced color by applying additional layers of pigments. After each layer I will chose a new color, until I am pleased with the result.
It interests me that my drawings are so radically different from my sculpture: while in my sculpture I want to be realistic as I can, in my drawings I am heading into nothingness. The similarity between these two bodies of work lay in my tendency to be precise in my performance.
I do feel very privileged for having the possibilities to be an artist, being able to do the things I want to do and not having to do the things other people tell me to do. Just the very fact that I am waking up in the morning, thinking about a next project, about the next drawings I await to make, longing for it, makes me an artist. My artistic practice is not over yet.
I can find mental peace through these drawings. This is a contemplative work in which I can dwell. I have to be cautious and attentive and build up the colors layer by layer. To choose the next color is often obvious, the drawings seem to ask for it as it has to match the color tone that is already achieved and adding a specific nuance, making the color more rich in its appearance, more saturated, more complex.
I am basically working on two different series of drawings. One series that is a clear rendering of the horizon and sky at the sea, so it is landscape (or seascape if you wish), the other series is similar in appearance, but the horizon is half-way up the paper in stead of at 1/3, this makes the latter series more abstract since it could as well be a line up of two fields and nothing more, this is emphasised by a different color scheme. (picture) Similar works are done by other artists, like Günther Förg, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and many more, but it seams to be relevant for me at this time so I plan to continue for now.
Could I—without further explanation—juxtapose abstract drawings with figurative sculpture at an exhibition? I tend to explain and contextualise my work, while at the same time I think that the visuals ought to be enough and text is 'just' an addition. I sometimes feel that my inclination to explain limits me in making intuitive and visual choices. I have a compulsion to rationalise and articulate—sometimes beforehand, when thinking of a concept for a new body of work, sometimes afterhand when I want to connect one body of work to others. Sometimes this compulsion contravenes what I actually can think of articulating, simply because I don't have the words—yet. In addition, as I long for making work that has an emotional impact on me instead of that it appeals to my logical mind, I ought to leave my compulsion to articulate and trust more on my artistic intuition.
Compare to Grayson Perry in an interview with Sarah Thornton: "It is a really bad idea for an artist to have an idea first and then illustrate it. It is much better to make the work you fancied and think up what it is about later, or if you're lucky, you have an academic brewing up brilliant 'compare fixed' insights into it, you can just bring them on… post-rationalisation… Works!" (Tate Modern Channel)
One of the most difficult assignments in art school I found was to 'make a work about the relation between the wall and the floor.' After months of pondering and doubting, I came with an abstract ready-made sculpture that was standing on the floor and a framed black drawing hanging on the wall, (picture) not a very satisfying result (a classmate put some hinges at the plint, which was a much more elegant solution) but now I recognise it as a harbinger for the relation between my sculpture and drawings today: different kinds of works that fulfil various functions in a composite work with a wider reach than its components.
My question is: Why do I put so much effort into articulating my work?
I think it suits me as the thinking person that I am, I want to be able to understand my work, but it is also induced by fear. I fear that I ought to be able to articulate my work, to make it more credible for myself and for others.
One of the reasons why I discontinued my abstract works a long time ago was that I could not articulate the content matter. Some of the works were too private, others simply 'just' visual. I couldn't find the words to justify them and it became too much connected to shame and fear.
It is in my person and in my taste for natural sciences that I want to explain and clarify my work, but I sometimes feel that the rational explanatory model that I use is a weak point, not because it is difficult to articulate, which it is, but because I lock myself into a specific working method, away from a more intuitive seeing. Concepts take over and prohibit other ways of seeing.
So, how do I connect my work to a more intuitive seeing? How do I deploy a strategy so that my work can be more diffuse? How do I free myself from my compulsion to justify my method?
I know I have to take a step, but I don't know in which direction. Years ago I went from working with metal and plaster (pictures) and drawings (picture) to working with clay. I wanted to give my work a more physical, bodily presence, away from the constructivism that I used and in which I felt locked. Now I have to do the same and make a new step. But I don't know in what direction. It is a fear to let go.
I have a small poster from a dance company: Virpi Pahkinen & Fredrik and this embodies what this is about: dance as physical and intuitive activity. I want my intuition to play a bigger role in my work, instead of giving in to compulsive explanatorily control. I want to work more like a composer, we don't expect them to justify every single note they write. I seek wordlessness; I have to put more trust in my intuitive seeing.
I use art to create my own free zone. Being in my studio offers me the opportunity to create such a place; it is obvious that I feel a strong need for it. Andrea Fraser says it like this: "For me, being an artist is about having a relative free space where I can engage, reflect and investigate things that I'm really concerned about." (Thornton, 33 artist in 3 acts, p 298)
I am making a sky. Subtle color shifts from blue to white-pinkish. (picture) I don't know whether it is good or not, if it holds in the end, but I want to make it.
My horizon drawings are explicitly minimalistic.
- - - -
I have discarded my self-portrait. (picture) It was pathetically large (42 cm), I have waited too long, had a haircut, and during the process I decided to change course—which in itself is OK, but I sort of lost interest in what I was doing. And, instead of making an introvert self portrait, I got stuck on the outside. It is better to start all over. Sometimes this happens: I can't get going with the work I want to make, or I loose interest and all that is left is a dead end road.