Into the landscape

Text by Torben Weirup


DCA Gallery, New York

Pia Andersen´s new paintings are about landscape.

The landscape is not an unknown motif in painting – but Pia Andersen´s paintings describe, nay, ARE landscapes in their own somewhat particular way.

Upon a first glance one cannot see what they represent. The canvases do not open up staggering panoramas of archaic landscapes nor do they immortalize the   mountains or the intimate idyll of the garden nor the rugged vastness of the sea or the intimate sweetness of farmlands. They do not even have a horizontal line to give one one´s bearings and which divide heaven and earth.

Pia Andersen´s landscapes are not abstract works that capture a slide of nature through more or less imprecise im- or expressionistic mists as one who looks at the world through steamy spectacles or as the nearsighted´s perception of his surroundings without any visual aids.

Abstract painting requires that the artist portrays landscape through a personal interpretation (that is not to say that all (landscape) paintings do not do so) by taking , as a starting point, a particular prospect or view, together with a psychological landscape and then striving to reproduce this in a form, abstracted from reality together with an inner or mental reality, but still relating to reality in a kind of distorted way.

This is not the case in Pia Andersen´s paintings. They are non-figurative and non-representative but at the same time they are about landscapes and perhaps most importantly, nature. Nature wafts from them.

When she is travelling, Pia Andersen makes notes and nothing more. She does not erect her easel in the southern European countryside, and size her surroundings by brush and eye together, but rather registers what she sees in her sketch pads, e.g. the line of a mountain range or hilltop at the same time as she breathes in the tonality of the place.

The travelling serves to wash her visual senses and fill her with new colour impressions, but, and this is important to note, the end results are not paintings of the places themselves. Because Pia Andersen´s tone of temperament  also is partly Nordic, some might say melancholic, but either way a sober tone. She does not cling to settings from abroad but rather mixes her impressions to form individual works, which, for this artist, demands an insistency on the neither figurative nor abstract. There has to be distance if the work is to be true art as opposed to illustration.

Back at her studio she prepares the canvas. Here she builds her quadrangles and some of those places where the quadrangles bisect each other she (re)discovers, maybe just for a moment, those lines she observed during her travels. Gradually the paintings become landscapes. But not recreating concrete landscapes; that mountain there or that lake over there!! but all landscapes; universal landscapes. One might say, paintings, put purely and simply, non-representational paintings which thanks to their mood remind us of nature.

The Quadrangles are constructed through the use of the colour. Colour richly composed of many hues and which can hint at certain characteristics of the tones that the artist may have experienced from, say sunshine or rain, morning or evening light but with elements of reminiscence, reworked in the mind together with her own mood. The painting is not supposed to represent an impression from a French valley, but the experiences from her travels are part of what makes up the painting. That landscape glimpsed by Pia Andersen on a particular day disappears, to be replaced instead by a composition of non-representative quadrangles.

The landscape is transformed to something in itself, constructions, which are actually only about, they, themselves, about colour and what colour does, by the one, to the other. The trained painter also has experience of composition and balance, of how to achieve harmony or tension (or both together) in the work. At some point, the work demands its own completion, as this type of painting has certain very particular, though individual, rules of composition if it is to be just right.

Also, in another way the painting, becomes a painting, becomes a painting in an own kind of autonomy.

The landscapes co-mingle in the painters mind. Each painting can contain a myriad of landscapes. There are painters who had to freeze a particular landscape or building at certain moments in time in order to investigate and demonstrate  what shifting light can do to say a cathedral´s form or a landscape´s atmosphere. Pia Andersen does the opposite. Some of her paintings are the sum of varying experiences.

You might imagine that she has observed the same place on several occasions or over a long period of time. She has seen insects hovering in the air, how certain cloud formations make the light vary and then when she is composing her quadrangular fields, these experiences come to the fore. The concrete landscape has no part here. Pia Andersen uses a range of landscapes and experiences to create colour fields showing us how light is made up. These paintings become a kind of distillation of nature.

It would be tempting to place Pia Andersen in a continuation of the Constuctivist painting tradition.

Russian constructivism at this century´s dawning was not concerned with  conventional visions of nature and did not strive to copy reality, on the contrary, as, they took as their goal the creation of something singular. Here geometry is God and fields and lines rule. This, in contrast to abstraction, which, as indicated, by one or another of its distortions is a version of reality.

In the same way as the Constructivists; Pia Andersen´s paintings are built up of fields, but her geometry is imprecise, her colours mingled, her lines soft and organic and the separation of the fields vague. It could be said that she betrays Constructivism which, amongst other things, is about clarity, simplicity and a pure devotion. Pia Andersen wants a kind of warm, ambiguous, mottled, colourist complexity. You may also say; she wants to paint.

When Pia Andersen immediately cannot be placed within a particular tradition, (without saying that she may not have actually gained experiences from that along the way) then this also is due to the fact that her newer paintings are in fact a continuation of her own personal and uniquely individual artistic development.
Pia Andersen was born in 1960 in northern Denmark where the land is flat and the sky is a vast expanse. The prevailling hues are grey and blue. She was educated at, amongst other schools, the Art Academy in Craków, in a problem filled Poland of the early 80s where her debut in the art scene was characterised by two things in particular.

The first, being, that her paintings were painted in grey tones that were as thick and pasty as a mixture of the coal fields and the spirit of those times one would find in a then Eastern Bloc country. Secondly, she worked on paper that she made herself, a technique she has since abandonded but which served her well in learning about texture and about the geometric construction of paintings. These early works which were shown in Denmark ten or so years ago would often consist of a composition whereby the canvas was divided by a large cross shape or right in the centre a triangle or quadrangle and where the rest of the canvas consists of smaller similar shapes painted in varying greys. These paintings were characterised by structure and fixed composition but with time this changed and the structure vanished to be overtaken by a more simple and more powerful painting.

A long study trip to Mexico in 1988-89, followed by several similar trips to Central and South America set Pia Andersen´s colour sense free and she came home and made large paintings dominated by ultramarine and later carmine red. Yellow followed, then green and then, at a time when she had a studio in rural Denmark in an area characterised by enourmous stones dotting the landscape, round shapes crept into her paintings. But, in no way can they be said to have been paintings of those stones. Their forms alone could be used in a painting composed of colours not representing that part of the country, but colours detached from a familiar reality. It needs to be stressed that these paintings are of and about themselves and their own composition, whilst one might at the same time still sense that in the painter´s mind the elements of Danish and South American tonality are mixed lending them their own unique expression.

For a period still, the mixed media form continued, where the paintings were created by adding coloured paper –pulp which was later painted, but from these paintings the jump, to the pure, marked textual and extremely sensuous painting, was all-pervasive and today Pia Andersen steps forward as a considerable artist of great individuality, who through her window on the world, creates her own personal, object-free, non-figurative, but organically conceived and nature lyrical painting.


Torben Weirup, artcritic at the morning paper Berlingske Tidende