About the work



     Concentration/Distraction, 2003 
200 x 200 cm
Oil on canvas
Kathrine Ærtebjerg's pictures are like fantastic fairytales where anything is possible. There is a cute, childish and dreamlike quality to the universes her paintings conjure up yet adult and serious thoughts are also present. Ambiguity is a key element of her pictures – as is the case in ARKEN's painting Concentration/Distraction. The pretty half human half animal creature rests, at one with the peculiar landscape and apparently unaware of the green slayer. The hazel creature is feminine like so many of the characters in Ærtebjerg's pictures; they are young and innocent but on the threshold of something sinister that is merely hinted at and which happens while they are dreaming and introverted.
In Concentration/Distraction the story revolves around the hazel, feminine creature. Just now she inhabits an innocent, phantasmagorical universe oblivious to the danger lurking behind her. Several of Ærtebjerg's paintings share this element. The key characters have delicate, feminine features – they are female or girly and are often passing from one stage to another. The picture captures the situation exactly between calm and crisis, safety and danger. At other times her characters face a dawning adult life and the exploration of sexuality and identity that stage in life entails.
Ærtebjerg's utopian landscapes dwell outside the concrete world and are inhabited by animals and strange growths. At face value her stories are happy and almost naïve. The transition between child/adult and animal/human and the dynamics between them infuse the paintings with a special ambiguity which tells the fundamental story of how appearances can be deceiving. Her pictures are often both saccharine, humorous and menacing in their interpretation of general existential issues.

Ærtebjerg's paintings are like narratives with scenes suggesting a plot or a sequence of events. Often the story is accentuated in the picture's title which appears like an idea or a thought from the main character. Thus the painting operates as a kind of comic. Concentration/Distraction's title is explanatory and appears to refer respectively to the dreamlike state in which we find the little, hazel creature and the green character’s contrasted focused state of mind.

The titles, then, are a principal element in Ærtebjerg's works and she often paints them straight on the wall next to the paintings where as additional stories or comments they contribute to capturing the mood or the story of the painting. At times the titles are long and evocative – almost like little poems challenging the boundaries and relationship between word and image. Ærtebjerg says: - I want to tell a story and in using both language and image the expression can be both simple and complex at the same time.

The style of the paintings and the simple exchange between word and image produce a sense of immediacy. In interviews Kathrine Ærtebjerg admits to being a daydreamer herself and very fond of the escape from reality offered by dreams. And her pictures typically occupy the borderland between dream and reality, celebrating imagination with inspiration from fairytales and comics. In her paintings anything is possible.
Kathrine Ærtebjerg's art in general
Like many Danish and international artists of her generation, Ærtebjerg explores figurative painting's potential for storytelling. The number of young figurative painters today is so great that it is being described in several places as a marked trend in contemporary art. Spotting a number of kinships between these artists may be difficult but they certainly all possess a pronounced interest in storytelling, in more or less obvious narratives and in figurations in various forms.

Expression, style and subject matter differ greatly in contemporary figurative painting but narrative is a recurring feature. The wealth of references spans from art historical subjects, comics and pop cultural icons to personal stories. ARKEN's Collection contains several artists working in figurative painting, including artists from the Academy of Art in Leipzig (Tilo Baumgärtel, Tim Eitel and Matthias Weischer) as well as Danes Eske Kath and Julie Nord.

All take their point of departure in figurative painting or drawing, adding new elements and inspirations with great technical finesse. Their paintings evince a continued development of the classical medium and possess a confident knowledge of other pictorial media, such as computer graphics, comics, photography and film.

Similarly several artists of Ærtebjerg's generation utilise art historical references. Neither are comics and fairytales Ærtebjerg's only sources of inspiration. Her creatures, personifications of fluid and kaleidoscopic transitions between animal/human and child/adult, share several similarities with surrealism's favourite subject matter in the early and mid twentieth century. And as was the case with the surrealists then, the boundaries between dream, imagination and reality are mutable in Ærtebjerg's paintings.

With the clear and prominent lines and bright colours, comics constitute a striking source for Ærtebjerg's works. However, the typical expressive painterly brushstroke has either been deemphasised or appears with humour and a reflective nod to the violent expressionist art of yesteryear.

Paintings and drawings are all meticulously rendered. The often very long period of gestation is manifest, and a profusion of details and little stories emerge upon closer scrutiny. The recognisable, seemingly familiar universe is a crucial feature of her pictures. They are easily accessible with their light and ostensibly unceremonious style yet at the same time the references are many and complicated, just as the style and subjects of her pictures may initially appear straightforward but are far more ambiguous and complex.

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