Land blog 01 – to be uploaded after the first LAND trip (jan. 6th 2023)
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Land blog 01 – to be uploaded after the first LAND trip (jan. 6th 2023)
Hit the ‘follow’ button below to receive weekly LAND blogs throughout the year
In May this year, I spent seven wonderful days painting and drawing on the ‘Pea Islands’ (Ertholmene), more commonly known as Christiansø. The project was inspired by my 2018 KYST project, and I started each day at sunrise and stopped with the sunset – outside in all weathers, trying to make a physical and emotional connection to the islands by watching, looking, painting and recording. Once again, all the artwork was completed on the day, but whereas for the KYST project I stayed as close to the coast as possible, here I divided the islands into seven consecutive ‘zones’, one for each day, and allowed myself to wander and explore within these areas as much as I liked.
Situated about 12 miles northeast of my home island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, Christiansø is home to about 90 residents, as well huge numbers of eider ducks, auks, seals, frogs and toads. The islands share a fascinating cultural history, and during the 17th and 18th centuries were converted into a huge naval fortress, which has remained largely unchanged since it was decommissioned in 1855.
In the summer, Christiansø is a popular tourist destination from Bornholm, and hundreds of visitors take the ferry from Gudhjem each day, returning after spending three or four hours traipsing around the islands. In May, however, there were few tourists, and I was lucky enough to experience a taste of the sensations and experiences that the islands offer. My biggest challenge was the incredible richness of the flora and fauna and the overwhelming amount of things I wanted to paint. Add to this the ever changing light and weather conditions, and I had a very intense seven days that left me quite exhausted.
On my return, I shifted my focus to the exhibition and book I had already planned. In the beginning of July I returned to the islands with my paintings and enjoyed another incredible week – this time showing my work at the tiny gallery Palivaren on Christiansø.
Just in time for the exhibition’s opening I managed to write and publish the book ERTHOLMENE, once again with the help of the designer Nye Hughes from Dalrymple in Scotland, with whom I had worked with for the KYST book. The ERTHOLMENE book is smaller (60 pp), softback and follows the same layout and narrative style of its big brother.
At the time of writing, the book is available to purchase in many of Bornholm’s bookshops and galleries. The price is 150kr (£15 Pounds Sterling). If you are not able to visit Bornholm, drop me an email stating your address and how many copies you would like, and whether you’d like it signed – and I’ll let you know how much the postage and packing costs. Payment can be made by Mobilpay, Paypal or bank transfer.
The paintings are also for sale – many are sold, but not all – so let me know if you’re interested in any of them.
From the very beginning of this project, I really liked the idea of creating the illusion of a square/firkant of ‘Spring/green/non-snow’ surrounded by ‘Winter/white/snow’. In my mind, I saw a green grassy square surrounded by virgin snow – I would shovel the snow out of the firkant and create a perfect square of non-snow. The other Fire Kanter I had made were created on a level plane, but I also liked the idea of playing a bit with the perspective and creating a firkant partly on a non-level plane. That was the plan anyway.
Although we had already had light snow and minus temperatures since the New Year, we hadn’t yet had real deep snow – so I was very glad when the forecasters promised a proper snowfall in the first week of February. I settled on a small local quarry, Bjergebakke Stenbrud, as the venue for Firkant 06 – I knew I would be undisturbed and would have the ability to project the firkant onto the sloping sides of the quarry. I have worked and painted there before, and I find it a very inspirational place. Once all the snow had fallen, I made a preparatory recce and looked at the snow quality, the direction of the sun and shadows and where I could locate the firkant. I needed a day without further snow, and when that was promised I was ready to start – everything was perfect.
The first mistake I made related to the positioning of the firkant. The smallest adjustments of the angle and direction of the camera eye result in potentially huge changes in the form and size of the firkant (as it is on the floor, rather than as it is as seen from the point). I made the firkant much too large, which meant a lot of shovelling. In some places the snow was over 50 cm high, and I only had a old shovel. I could have saved myself an awful lot of time and effort if I had adjusted the angle of the camera a few milimetres up.
Another problem I hadn’t really recognised, was that – in order to keep the snow surrounding the firkant untouched, I would need to leap from the edge of the ‘picture’ into the firkant, where I could then begin shovelling. This meant that all the snow I cleared needed to be transported ‘out’ of the firkant and then out of the ‘picture frame’. I did this by filling IKEA bags with snow, then chucking them out over the ‘picture edges’, leaping out of the firkant making sure not to damage the virgin snow, emptying the bags and then leaping back again and repeating the process. Many times.
It didn’t take me long to realise that it would take me more than one day to clear the firkant. Other problems: the ground I was clearing was in turns grassy, stony, or rocky. In some places small bushes lay under the snow, which also needed to be cleared. My snow shovel – and my sanity – started to crack. Then, despite the weather forecasts, it started snowing and blowing quite heavily. The parts of the firkant I had cleared started to fill up with snow again. I had taken a dustpan and brush, with the naïve hope of eliminating all the snow completely, but it soon became clear that it would be impossible. By the end of the day I had hardly made any impact and was very close to giving up.
The next day was indeed sunny, which unfortunately meant that the snow developed an icy crust, which made it even more difficult to shovel. The south facing edge of the firkant started melting and drooping in the sun, despite the air temperature remaining well below freezing. I had to enlarge the firkant in order to maintain the illusion of a square, but even the tiniest change meant IKEA bags and IKEA bags of new snow to be cleared.
Returning for the third day I noticed how the cleared square had been visited by the local fauna. Hare and deer tracks led into the square, and raven wings had left beautiful imprints in the snow. I cleared as much as I could and then decided enough was enough. I never managed to clear the square completely of snow as I had imagined, but I decided I would let nature take its course. The forecasters promised warmer weather, and I imagined the snow and ice remaining in the square would soon be melted completely away.
Returning again and again, the thaw has indeed melted nearly all the snow in the firkant, but it has also completely melted one of the sides, destroying the illusion of a square. I will return sporadically and keep documenting the firkant as it slowly disappears and is consumed again by the landscape. Perhaps the fact that I scraped the snow with the shovel will leave some sort of shadow on the new growth of grasses in the Spring. In many ways Firkant 06 has been a failure, in that I never achieved the sharp distinction between the virgin snow and green grass that I envisaged. However, it was an interesting and unforgettable experience and I have really enjoyed seeing it change over time. I also may have saved the lives of a few birds and mice by exposing all that grass.
For me, the Fire Kanter project is all about physically getting to grips with the landscape, and learning more deeply about the place that I find myself in.
‘Fire Kanter’ (’Four Edges/Sides’) is the title of a year-long self-funded art project I will be working on throughout 2021. Now that the KYST project and all its various outcomes (book, exhibition, etc) have been delivered and digested, I feel I am ready and willing to embark on another structured and time-based project.
I wanted to build on some of the themes of the KYST project, but also do something completely different. I love the structure of a year-long project and the rhythm and depth that such an undertaking entails, but I also want to change the format and build on some of the anamorphic and land art sculptures and installations I’ve been working on over many years.
‘Fire Kanter’ is a series of anamorphic squares – site-specific interventions – created and photographed in the Bornholmian landscape. I will walk around in the landscape, in the forest, on a field, by the beach. I will choose a point in space and from that point, I will create the illusion of a square within the landscape by moving, replacing and altering things I find and collect in the landscape. I will be engaging with the environment in an explorative and tactile way and getting my hands dirty.
The anamorphic nature of the project means that the area I will be engaging with is by no means square but will only appear so from the specific point from where I record the image. The challenge will be to create this illusion using organic materials within a dynamic space. Wind, air temperature and gradient will dictate the nature of the artwork, as will the plastic nature of the resources that I will be working with. I have hundreds of ideas as I write this (mid-January) but time will tell which of these will be successfully realised.
I will be creating a minimum of one ‘firkant’ a month throughout 2021. Probably and hopefully I will be creating many more. Whilst I am not specifying when and where the firkanter will be made, my aim is to create interventions that reflect the turning of the wheel of time as well as the geographical and natural diversity of Bornholm. I will be looking at creating these artworks in a variety of different locations on Bornholm, some well-known, others much less so. Some may only last for hours or days, others a bit longer, but all will eventually be reclaimed by time and the landscape.
In order to create these squares, I will try to use as few tools as possible – just my camera and tripod if possible. I will document the creation of the firkant, its completed form and possibly the process of it dissolving back into the landscape. These images I will share throughout the year on my social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook and my website blog). Time permitting, I will write on my blog about the creation of these works. Possibly I will be making plein air timescape/slicer paintings of the squares. Depending on how all this goes, I will investigate creating a book and/or exhibition about the project in 2022, and I would like to include some of the ideas, sketches and thought processes. But maybe not – this is a self-created and self-funded project, an essentially selfish undertaking that may disappear without trace.
FK 01 – and three days after…
‘Fire Kanter’ is (another) way for me to connect deeply with the Bornholm landscape. By being in the landscape and moving things around, I cannot help but engage with it in a deep and meaningful way. I will be literally getting to grips with my environment. The raw materials of the landscape will be the tools with which I create my art. The artwork will be situated within that which it represents.
’Fire Kanter’ er navnet på et nyt årskunstprojekt, jeg arbejder på i 2021. Nu hvor KYST udstillinger og bogen endelig er færdige, leveret og fordøjet, er jeg klar til og spændt på at begynde et ny struktureret og tidsbaseret kunstprojekt.
Jeg ville bygge videre på flere af temaerne fra KYST, men alligevel lave noget helt andet. Jeg elsker at skabe struktur eller rammer over længere tidsperioder, og er meget glad for at fordybe mig på den måde, men jeg ville også gerne ændre formatet og arbejde videre med nogle af de anamorfisk og land art installationer, jeg har lavet inden for de sidste år.
’Fire Kanter’ er anamorfiske kvadrater – stedsspecifikke installationer – skabt og fotograferet i den bornholmske natur. Jeg vil gå rundt ude i naturen, i skoven, på marken eller langs kysten, og vælge et punkt i rummet. Set fra dette punkt, vil jeg flytte, ændre og bytte tingene jeg finder rundt for at give illusionen af et kvadrat, der ’hænger’ i naturen. Jeg vil sætte mig i naturen og på den måde skabe en tæt og stoflig forbindelse med mine omgivelser.
Da det er et anamorfisk kvadrat, betyder det, at det område jeg arbejder med ikke er kvadratisk i ’virkeligheden’, men kun vil virke kvadratisk fra et bestemt punkt i rummet. Udfordringen er at skabe illusionen i et dynamisk sted ved kun at bruge naturmaterialer. Vinden, temperaturen, niveauforskelle og de formbare naturmaterialer bestemmer, om det er muligt, og om det kan lykkes. Lige nu (midt i januar) har jeg hundredvis af forskellige ideer og steder, men kun mulighed for at prøve at lave nogle af dem.
Jeg vil gerne lave mindst en firkant om måneden, men forhåbentlig nå at lave flere. Mit mål er at skabe værker, der beskriver eller afbilder både tidens gang og den mangfoldighed af natur, der findes på Bornholm. Nogle af dem bliver lavet på velkendte steder, andre vil nok ligge mere skjult. Nogle varer kun i få timer, nogle andre meget længere. Men alle de ’fire kanter’ bliver med tiden genoptaget af naturen.
Jeg vil prøve at skabe disser naturskulpturer med så lidt brug af værktøj som muligt – kun mit kamera og kamerastativ, hvis det overhovedet er muligt. Jeg vil dokumentere processen undervejs, når den er færdig, og måske efter værket begynder af forsvinde ind i naturen igen. Disse billeder bliver delt på Instagram, Facebook og bloggen på min hjemmeside. Måske maler jeg selv de fire kanter i virkeligheden. Måske vil jeg prøve at skrive en bog eller lave en udstilling om projektet i 2022, og jeg kunne godt tænk mig at udstille nogle af ideerne og skitserne. Men måske alligevel ikke – det er et personligt og selvfinancieret projekt, som måske også forsvinder med tiden.
FK 01 – og tre dage efter…
’Fire Kanter’ er for mig en anden måde at skabe en forbindelse med den bornholmske natur. At være i landskabet og at flytte tingene rundt – jeg kan ikke undgå at blive engageret på en dyb og betydningsfuld måde. Landskabet selv giver materialerne, værktøj, motiv og sted – kunsten er inde i det, der bliver afspejlet.
It seems like an age ago now, but in September of 2020, I was part of the third Earthbound exhibition held at Gudhjem Museum. This post is just a short description of the process involved in preparing and delivering the work I produced for the exhibition – much too late of course, but hopefully this will spur me on to be a more regular blogger throughout 2021…
Earthbound is a very loose collection of five Bornholm-based artists, all of whom take direct or indirect inspiration from Bornholm’s natural environment. Earthbound III would be myself, together with the incredible pots of ceramic artist Eva Brandt, the delicate and shimmering watercolours and prints by Lone Schiøtz, atmospheric oil paintings by Barbara Sørensen and the tactile organic wooden vessels by wood turner Hans Henning Pedersen. We had exhibited together two times before, both at Gudhjem Museum, so this was to be the third act. The previous exhibitions had been very well received, and I was looking forward very much to joining forces with the other ‘Bounders’ and putting my work up on the walls of what I think is Bornholm’s best gallery space.
Right from the start I decided I would produce some large watercolours, larger than I had ever tried before. I was interested in seeing if I could make some gigantic plein air ‘timescape’ paintings, where I would follow the movement of the shadows over the landscape, through the course of a day.
I started off buying a huge roll of Saunders Waterford paper, and cutting off slices. To stretch and prepare the paper, I took it to Bjergebakke Quarry, about a ten minute cycle ride from where I live, were I submerged the paper and let it dry between huge sheets of hardboard. All this happened in August during a very hot period, which meant the paper dried too quickly and buckled a little anyway. I was OK with that.
The first two paintings I completed in Bjergbakke Quarry itself. It is an old granite quarry, very small and local in character, that has been out of use since the 70s. Now it is used for grazing livestock and the owners have kindly built a diving platform, so people can jump into the deep quarry lake. Inside the bowl of the quarry, industrial machinery slowly rusts into the soil. It is an evocative place, a quiet arena cut off from its surroundings, where nature is slowly taking back territory previously lost to human activity.
Next I went to Stevns Klint, a rocky outcrop in the northern end of Salene Bugt just south of Helligdomsklipperne. Here the natural granite rock face is completely different in character. As I had in Bolsterbjerg, I started by dividing the paper into 3 x 5 squares. Then I made a very simple pencil sketch of the whole area I would focus on, making notes and sketches. Returning the next day just after midday, I started in the middle of the painting and worked by way, square by square as time went, finishing in the bottom right square, at about 10 pm. The next morning at 5 am I returned and continued, starting from the top left square, until I reached there where I had begun the day before.
The third venue was Stammershalle, another rocky outcrop further north. Here the prominotory is riddled with iron and bronze age menhir and dolmen and I’ve always felt as though there is a special energy or atmosphere in the area. This time I worked horizontally from left to right. Again, it was an incredible experience to spend so much time outside in one place just looking and looking, and looking…
The fourth place I chose was ‘Peder Olsens Havn’ just south of Hasle on the other eastern side of the island. Here sheltering under a low sandstone cliff I was again completely cut off from everything and anyone and had only the gulls for company. At the end of the first day it started to rain and I struggled to keep the huge painting dry under my shelter. The next morning was the most incredible magical sunrise. Whilst I worked horizontally again, I subdivided the painting according to the Golden Mean. This meant that I ‘changed’ more quickly during those parts of the day that the light changed more quickly (the sunrise and the sunset).
The final three paintings were sky studies, where I subdivided the sky into stripes or squares, and followed it through the day. In the painting below, I started in the top left and work down, then started up on the next column, and so on…
I used pretty much all of August and a bit of September on the paintings. We had a week to install the exhibition, and it went very smoothly, just as it had done the previous times. We the artists worked well together and were ably supported by the passionate and knowledgable volunteers of Gudhjem Museum. Here a photo taken during installation.
I was surprised and a tiny bit disappointed when I saw how my huge paintings shrunk once within the gallery, but overall I was very pleased with the exhibition and my large watercolours. Unfortunately due to Covid there was no PV, but now I just thank the lucky stars that we were able to open at all. Such a fantastic place to exhibit, and in the company of such talented artists. I think our stuff worked really well together – Earthbound IV? Who knows, watch this space…
Sunday the 20th of October marked the closing of the fourth and last KYST exhibition at Allerød Kunstforening, and as such the official end of the KYST project, which has – to a greater or lesser extent – been a full-time obsession of mine over the last two years.
To mark the project’s cessation I thought I’d just blog a quick summary of what the project has meant to me and include some observations and some of my favorite images and, in doing this, finally and truly put the project to bed.
Broadly speaking the project has had three phases, all of which were very different in character but had in common a certain amount of communication with the public/my audience – something I’ve not really done much of before.
Firstly, preparation – whilst the first inkling of the idea may well have been born well over 10 years ago, it was during 2017 that the idea really began to take hold and become a reality. I researched the idea, looked into practicalities and bought lots of new equipment and gear in preparation for the trip. I also went online and announced the project, asking for feedback as to what the project should be called, where I should start, whether I should walk clockwise or counterclockwise, and so on. Right from the start it was apparent that the project engendered much interest.
The second part of the project – actually DOING it – was 2018 and was really the ‘easy’ part. Once I had the structure and rules in place, once I had the blog set up, all the gear and software sorted, it was just a question of walking around the island every Friday and painting. Of course, there were challenges in terms of the weather and the long days, photography and writing and doing the blog – and I was also really busy with other freelance work throughout the year – but very quickly the Fridays became incredibly rewarding and the most looked forward to day of the week. As I reached the end of the year and the project’s conclusion I began to really worry about what I would be doing post-KYST.
During the walk I received so much support – from people on Bornholm following the blog, from the local TV station and newspaper, from people following my updates on Instagram and Facebook and so on. This was something I’d not really experienced before – this close connection with people enjoying my work – and it was overwhelming to say the least.
The third part of the project – the book and the exhibitions – has in many ways been the hardest, but no less rewarding. The book was a team effort, and it was amazing to work WITH people again (reminding me of my time as a curator and project manager working in museums and galleries). It was a tremendous amount of work, but I was committed, enthusiastic and passionate about delivering a quality book, and luckily so were the other people working on the project. I am proud of the KYST book and thank God for that – because I’ll be living with it for the rest of my life.
The first KYST exhibition was at Svanekegaarden on Bornholm. Once again I was lucky to be supported by an enthusiastic team at the gallery. Hours before the private view I was still unsure as to whether anyone would actually show up. My brothers and sister had made the trip over and I was feeling giddy with nervousness. The opening was a huge success with hordes of people and sales. The exhibition seemed to strike a chord with local Bornholmers and I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback and depth of the connection visitors made to my work. It was a strange and very special experience.
The exhibition was toured to Aberlady in Scotland and then Holt in Norfolk. In both venues, I completely rehung the exhibition, showing new works each time, and creating new narratives. This has been one of the pleasures of having so much ‘raw material’ (over 520 paintings) to work with – but it has also meant an INSANE amount of planning and organization – which has, at times, resulted in a fair amount of tension and drama. In Scotland, I had, for example, a week to make over 40 new frames. ‘Never again’, I said to myself. Just a few months later I found myself in exactly the same situation as I struggled to make 40 new frames for the exhibition in Norfolk – and then once again, making 60 new frames for the exhibition in Allerød. All through the year, I had been working pretty close to the wire, driving back and forth between Denmark and England, with little time to spare. Thankfully I enlisted the help of family and friends along the way, without which it all would have been impossible.
In Aberlady, I was once again blessed by the support of an enthusiastic exhibition staff – something that makes such a huge difference. The private view was well attended and I was so happy to be able to ‘show off’ Bornholm to a new audience. In Norfolk, at the Birdscapes gallery, the exhibition was equally well received and I was thankful for the professionalism and experience of their exhibition team.
The last exhibition in Allerød was the largest and most ‘complete’ KYST exhibition. I invited nine Bornholmian artists, all of whom were heavily inspired by Bornholm’s nature, to exhibit with me -creating a whole new layer to the exhibition and the project. Again, the opening was incredibly well attended and again I was overwhelmed with all the positive feedback. I had to leave the opening a bit early and take a train to southern Jutland where I was attending an artists’ residency. On the three-hour train journey I had ample time to reflect on the exhibition, the book and the project, and digest all the supportive and affirmative feedback I’d received. Collecting the exhibition just two weeks later I was so thankful for the efforts of the gallery staff – volunteers all – who had managed the installation, manned the gallery and -not least – administered the exhibition sales.
Most of the time I work alone – either in the field or at home in the studio. Sometimes I teach, or have meetings, but generally speaking I am in my own world. When I paint, I’m doing it for me, because I want to, because I NEED to – I try not to think too much about what people might think about what I’m doing. The KYST project has been a completely different experience for me, where I have truly been made aware of the effect my work can have on other people. It is a very strange feeling, and truly, one that I’m not completely at ease with – not at all in fact. But I AM thankful. KYST has been a success – in terms of impact, sales, people reached and so on it has exceeded my wildest dreams. It is a strange feeling. I think back to those incredible mornings, those sunsets, that connection with my environment. I am glad it is all there – my paintings, my book, the blog etc. Now I look forward, with more than a little trepidation, to the next project, the next chapter…
And what will I do now, how will I follow KYST? I have a few ideas for a few projects or ‘structures’, but I’m not really sure yet – other than just getting out there and painting. I’ve still got a few KYST talks to give, and I’m still selling KYST paintings from home (let me know if you’d like a list of unsold KYST works) and the book is still selling – but really, it’s time to move on…
At this year’s Natural Eye exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London, I was shocked and chuffed in equal measures to receive the Birdwatch Artist of the Year Award. In their own words ‘This prestigious award, held in association with the Society of Wildlife Artists and Swarovski Optik, is given to the artist whose work s considered to be the most outstanding’. My painting of tufted ducks in Rønne harbour was the one they chose, which made me especially happy as is was painted on Bornholm, and shows a scene that many local people will be familiar with (they huddle in the harbour every winter, just by the ferry).
I painted it in January, just after the actual KYST project finished. It was a freezing afternoon, but the setting sun cast a wonderful orange glow on the ducks. The sub-zero temperature meant that I couldn’t really control my fingers, resulting n broadquick brush strokes, and froze the washes of watercolor on to the paper, creating wonderful tendrils and patterns. I absolutely didn’t think ‘my God, its a Goddam masterpiece’ when I finished it, but it has grown on me and I was happy to submit it to the exhibition. I had no idea it would be chosen as the winning painting!
It means so much to me to receive this award, and has been given to me at a very important juncture in my professional life – just as the KYST project, its book and exhibitions, has come to a close, and lots of exciting things are beckoning on the horizon. I look forward to developing my practice and hopefully, one day I’ll feel as though I actually deserve to stand alongside previous and future winners.
…is finally published. It has been a hard but very enjoyable slog, and I am very proud of the finished result.
Published by NaturBornholm and written in both Danish and English, the book is hardback with 224 full colour pages,, and measures 30 x 25 cm. The forewords are by Bruce Pearson, former president of the SWLA, and Peter Haase, the Director of NaturBornholm. The book is designed by Nye Hughes of Dalrymple Design, printed by Narayana Press, and translated by Marie Lund from Idiomatic, with photography by David Rowan, and additional images by Verner Kjærgaard and HH Pedersen.
The book starts with an introduction, where I discuss the background behind the project and some of the challenges I faced along the way, illustrated with maps and photographs from the trip. Thereafter, the book is divided chronologically, with 2, 4 or 6 richly illustrated pages describing each of the 52 weekly KYST trips, complete with an overview of what I saw, who I met and what was rattling around in my head. In addition there a number of appendices and thumbnails of every one of the paintings I completed within the parameters of the project. The book concludes with the list of 100 names that supported my Kickstarter.
The book can be ordered and paid for online here at NaturBornholm or here at William Dams bookshops’ website. Both webshops are in Danish only but are very easy to navigate (‘levering’ = delivery). The cost is 400kr excluding p & p. Let me know if you have any problems/questions or would like to order directly through me (I have some here and in England).