About the work

ASGER JORN

ABOUT THE WORK


 

Asger Jorn Læsø, 1965During a visit in 1965 to art dealer Børge Birch’s holiday home on Læsø, Asger Jorn was tempted by the white walls of the house. In a matter of hours he completed a large mural in distempers with a transparent, watercolour-like glow.

Quick, delicate brushstrokes spread from the wall into a door niche, up a staircase and into the former granary where the colours become darker, browner and more saturated in accordance with the room's architecture.

 

FROM HOLIDAY HOUSE TO MUSEUM
In 1986 Børge Birch donated the decoration to the municipality of Copenhagen. A temporary, stabilising membrane was glued to the work's surface. It was thus possible to loosen the paint and the outer layer of plaster from the whitewashed brick walls.

 

By way of a complicated technique the mural was subsequently transferred onto seven panels in a strong, lightweight material. The individual sizes vary greatly and suggest the painting's storm-tossed history which has meant multiple relocations for the work.

 

The unique decoration then has been preserved as pictures although the impression given by the decoration in the room is hard to recreate. After a decade in the foyer of the Østre Gasværk Theatre the painting came to ARKEN in 1998.

 

A DEMOCRATIC MEDIUM
Already when he was a young student in Fernand Léger's school of painting in Paris, the mural was one of Jorn's media of choice. He felt that this 'democratic' medium was ideal for popular art, a notion quite in keeping with his Communist commitment.

 

At the 1937 World Exhibition Jorn assisted Le Corbusier in enlarging children's drawings to colossal formats. Later on children's drawings became a source of inspiration to Jorn and the rest of the members of the Spontaneous-Abstract painters and the CoBrA movement. Thus the Læsø decoration's combination of the spontaneous, childishly playful idiom and the large scale of the mural is a natural continuation of Jorn's artistic production.

 

Asger Jorn's art in general
Throughout his life Jorn employed most of the artistic media: drawing, graphic prints, murals, sculpture, ceramics, tapestries and various kinds of books and magazines. In all these media he expressed a constant desire for renewal and an interest in art's potential.

 

Working only a few years with the concrete, machine-like idiom that distinguished Léger's paintings, instead Jorn changed direction in favour of the ambiguous and less tangible experiments of Surrealism.

 

Over the course of the 1940s Jorn's style became increasingly spontaneous and developed distinct abstract qualities. His paintings from this period manifest an obvious interest in pure, lucid complementary colours.

 

During World War II Jorn joined up with the Spontaneous-Abstract painters. They wanted a painting with emphasis on the actual, applied paint, free of the restraints of reason. They drew inspiration from the Surrealists' 'automatic drawing' in which the artists sought a subconscious expression. At the same time the Spontaneous-Abstracts criticised the Surrealists for controlling the process of painting: not only the subjects should be subconscious, the method should express the subconscious as well.

 

A SOCIAL BEGINNING
From 1948 Jorn worked in the CoBrA movement's increasingly abstract and liberated style. The artists stressed the importance of free expression, colour and the individual brushstrokes. They sought an all-embracing expression, inclusive of everybody across time and cultures. CoBrA focused on universal, existential conditions, marked both by their life-affirming dreams of a new community and by the horrors of war.

 

Jorn and CoBrA's outlook on art was characterised by grand utopian visions including not only art but all of existence. Their art was marked by existential reflections and the prevailing zeitgeist of the Cold War.

 

Jorn's great social and political commitment continued to grow during the 1950s. First he co-founded the group Bauhaus Imagiste and later on he participated in the politically orientated group Internationale Situationniste. This is when he began his 'modifications', i.e. painting over and altering other artists' works, giving them a more updated look and relevance for the modern man.

 

A GREAT SUCCES
The 1960s saw Jorn's big breakthrough – commercial as well. This provided the opportunity for him to develop his lifelong interest in Nordic history and art. Through his Scandinavian Institute for Comparative Vandalism he spent the years until his death in 1973 endeavouring to publish a major book project on 10,000 years of Nordic popular art with contributions by a host of writers. Of the projected 23 volumes just one was published.

 

During this period his paintings became increasingly expressive and he often abandoned figuration completely in favour of richly coloured pictures. Though leaving the Situationniste movement, his political commitment in no way diminished, resulting in posters for the French youth revolt.


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