Describing the world as colour

Text by Peter Michael Hornung


Galerie Moderne, Silkeborg, Denmark

Through the artist nature comes off on the square of the picture. And it does so in just as many ways as artistic approaches to the visible exist. It would be a discreet understatement to say that Pia Andersen paints as if colour is only a remedy to establish a form or to organize an experience. She goes a step further. She makes the remedy itself her discreet goal: Painting colour itself, the texture or the structure of colour. Through her choice of colour she takes the temperature on her impressions. And nature helps her choose.

Her remedies, however, are not the clear, unambiguous colours known from the rainbow in the sky or the colour spectrum of optics, which all have a well-defined look and a fixed designation. She works toward the strong and warm colours, thosee being ambiguous and equivocal, the colourmixtures and the mixed colours, which never have only one name and one ring.

The colour of Pia Andersen has provenance in a sensation picked up in a world, growing concurrently with her exploration of it. Heavy with more than the pure pigment, the colour betrays an intense score with something she has stumbled into or peceived in an enviroment or in a particular mentality. The colour is strengthened and simplified memory or  a sight, an impression or an experience.

Some artists settle down, find one town or one place which they take possession of with body and soul, and which in the long run becomes an integral part of their own as well as the pictures´ identity, this is not the case with Pia Andersen. She lives in a selfchosen shuttling between the near and the far-away, between the well-known and the foreign. Ever since her youth it has been natural for her to move proportional to her points of origin and their possibilities. Travelling has been a way withdrawing from casual limitations and making a distance to confident and accustumed impressions. Travelling is also a strategy to find oneself in the unknown, looking forward for and maybe meeting the experience, which may free hidden or forgotten potentials in the ability or the artist.

The transitions or the surfaces of fracture in Pia Andersen´s development as a colourist and as a painter in general cannot be seperated from the journeys  across the Atlantic. When especially the South American continent has appealed to her, it is not only because the relatively far away and exotic destination signals something rare and original in itself; while many other Danes in her generation seek the challenge of a new and larger world in Spain and Germany or Paris and New York, preferring South America easily could look like a spontaneous and remarkable way of wanting to be different. Pia Andersen has tried to deepen her confidence in e.g. Mexico and Brasil, Argentina and Chile, as if she was mentally determined to pick exactly these places. Even though Sao Paulo as a city of art is greatly underestimated in Europe and for that reason alone could be worthwhile a journey it is not the points of growth in international art and the most intense enviroments of art, she is searching up nor primarily the accquaintance of other non-European painters. That she by and by has gotten to know many South American artists more closely, and the fact that she has built a social “network” of friends in this part of the world, has only given her reason to return from time to time.

No matter how important the travelling is to the painting as an inspiration and starting-point, Pia Andersen distinguishes sharply between the chapter in the story of her life, which is about collecting impressions and experiencing, and the chapter concerning the work itself. Work meaning using these accumulated and ripened travel-impressions as mental stimulants: i.e. sketching them and transforming them into works. She does not paint when she is abroad, apart from smaller sizes which can be easily transported. Abroad she is drawing instead, when it is convenient, filling her sketchbooks with studies of phenomenas so different from the running stream of impressions, that they demand to be kept in the form of a note. These notes do not pretend to be small pieces of art in itself. In any case, she does not share them with public by exhibiting them. Not until at home, in her studio in Copenhagen, she collects her impressions and realizes them in painting.

Since youth the journey has been the necessary strategy to avoid the tedious and predictable. A grant gave her the possibility to go to Poland for one year to the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow and the period (it ended up being two whole years she spent here) signified the meeting with a quite different artistic enviroment free of conflicts and differently composed from the one she knew. The beginning of the 1980s were an extremely problematic period for Poland politically as well as culturally. After the military declaring martial law – and introducing cencorship, it suddenly became very difficult showing your works and difficult in general to obtain materials around in the state operated institutions.The exhibitions you as a young art-student from the West needed to see were not the official and recognized ones which the comunist Poland wanted to identify with, but those being part of the cultural underground-enviroment´s ramified activities. You had to adjust, to think, and to act differently to get going, and further more you could not be restrained by not having access to those tools you were used to. The interlude in Craców got important as a lesson: A world outside  Denmark does exist, and other possibilities and medias than the current do exist. They certainly are not easy to handle, on the contrary, but regardless of the efforts, limitations carry an unexpected payment in itself being that of challenges and demands.

You did not find much of colour in her first works on paper, and nothing at all compared with the spicy and expressively potent suit of colours she has dressed her paintings in during the last 4 – 5 years. The earlier works were kept in “a distinct Nordic attitude towards colour” to use her own describing term: She remembers them very delicate, almost colourless, more white and grey, at the very most a blot of a primary colour.

This the large journey to Mexico 1988 – 89 definitely came to change. It entered a register of impressions in her mind, demanding to be realized in a far more potensed colour. the colourless gave room the colourfull, the pale to the blue. The use of blue was not based on pure sense observation, because the houses here and there in Mexico stand with an ultramarine blue painting. It also was intuition, feeling, impression because the Mexican mentality in comparison with other South-American countries might appear more reserved, cooler. On the other hand it was important to her to characterize the blue colour in proportion to the climate as being warm, hot; and this was the reason for mixing other colours into the blue, subtuning, like one could see in the paintings exhibited in Nikolaj, Copenhagen´s Exhibitionhall in 1990.

After a longer stay in Brasil 1990-91 the red colour demanded its right. Again it was a sensation uniting with an intuition towards the enviroment. Pia Andersen had settled in the seaside town Salvador de Bahia in the North Eastern part of Brasil. The temperature there is subtropical, the ground is red, covered with flowers, people dress in red agressive colours, the food is strong and spicy, the heat almost proding your skin. Her eyes as well as her instinct together chose the colour for her, as they had done before.

A liquid, let us take a good Brasilian vinho tinto as an example, is of no value and will be wasted if it is not held in a vat, a bottle, a glass: Something. Something similar applies to the colour as substance as well. It is absurd without its demarcation and extension. It demands the outline of a form or certain dimensioning to be valued – either as colour in itself or as a colour in relation to other colours. The drawn skeleton in Pia Andersen´s paintings is just as simple and reductive as the colouristic ring, she extracts as the essence of her impressions. Most often it is vertical or horisontal forms in an extremely simpel and as a whole regular construction. In South America she mainly has stayed in cities, and the city, she says, promotes the symetric perception of form. This symmetry can be composed of segmented triangels, or it can appear as softly drawn squares or rectangles of some kind of architectonic provenance. The symmetry is what carries the construction of the picture, and endows it as a whole with a sacral character. Architecture being the most important inspiration for the organisation and structure of the surface, her painting with their accentuation of vertical and horisontal are also of a kind that function at their best in the company of architecture.

What almost looked like a law in Pia Andersen´s association with nature went through a logic revision when she some months last year had “Skejtehuset” at Fuglsang, Lolland, at her disposal. Here the surroundings were throroughly different from those she was confident with from the metropoles Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Salvador. Her journeys normally leave visible artistic traces, you can from the syntax of pictures full of anticipation follow the way to the qualifications in nature. Pia Andersen lived in “Skejten” from March till Midsummer. The summer 1992 had been legendarily poor in rain, the grass had almost dried out, and the ground with the many rocks had cracked and bursted due to the lack of moist. Apart from the juicy-green, which implies plenty of rainfall to be able to accompany springtime, the colours were many and strong and the paintings set for on the spot turned to play on a richer colour-register than the results from the Mexico-journey.

The nature enviroment was of a quite different irregular character than earlier. The forms are swelling in a more soft an organic way, and the landscape with the trees and the rocky fields set for a less symmetric administation of the picture-language. especially the impressions of the many irregular drawn elipses of the rocks have struck through on the surface, where they compete with rectangular figures in order to embrace and fix the colour. Sometimes the lump of the rock settles behind the squares, sometimes it lay in front, sometimes the square is just a frame, a drawing, created by the pause of the colour, other places it colours the ground like a membrane, a filter or a coloured piece of glass. And the figures are never pure squares. The figures being an ecco of the through sizes of the pictures, also being rectangles.

The constructive will does not deny itself, but opposite, the organic spaciousness in the construction is obvious to everybody. It is not art based on abstract ideas and preconceived and fixed concepts on what being good or bad form in the painting´s association with nature.

Just like the colour is neither clean, nor infected by other colours, but is speckled, spotted and soft, soaked and translucent; the lines are not constructed or “drawn” so relentlessly as it is possibly only with a ruler. The lines are never straigt or real even. They are drawn or sketched with loose hand – and confirm through their poetic and unforced approximacy that the definite and relentless is not covered by the silent speach of the picture. You can speak of the necessity of approximacy being a condition af the material life of the painting, of the visible co-growth with an unsettled nature. Or as a condition of the picture breathing freely concurrently with its organic qualifications.

Nature has one more part in the substance of the picture, breaking through in the life on the surface in the unsettled material structure. If the sense of the sight could not disclose the shading of the colour due to the taxtile surface of the picture, the sense of touch could do so without trouble. The paper used to paint on can be roughly curly, almost shaggy or decayed. Or it can be almost smooth. And the tools used to apply the colour with are not only brush and fillingknife. The difference is not immense. But it is large enough to be seen. The shaded texture of the paper lends character from the colour and makes it varied within the same modulation.

The paper lays the foundation, now as then, when Pia Andersen set out. But the paper has with the years taken colour from the surroundings – has absorbed impressions like a dry sponge absorbs liquid. The pictures themselves do not imitate the conditions, which bore them, they only indicate them. The colour itself has become the synthesis of the experience – and the identity of the picture.


Peter Michael Hornung, artcritic at the daily morning paper Politiken