Summer Lightning

Text by Allis Helleland


DCA Gallery, New York and Antíguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, Mexico City

At the Prado in Madrid, visitors can find Francisco Goya’s dramatic painting of the Colossus from 1808, the time of the Napoleonic wars. The image is divided horizontally. The lower part shows a dark, stormy landscape. The top part depicts the sky with light and fire on the horizon, gradually darkening upwards with volumes of dark clouds rolling in agitated movement. From the line of the horizon, a giant naked male figure towers, moving forward in the same direction. The huge male figure with the clenched fists stretches up into the fierce, drifting clouds and represents a terrible threat. Even so, the drama of the picture does not reveal its full extent until you take a closer look to find that the dark landscape is brought to life, teeming as it is with hordes of tiny people and animals fleeing a common, immediate danger.

The same sense of drama characterises the four small landscapes painted by Pia Andersen in the month of November 2002. The same horizontal division of the picture plane. The same ominous skies, the same rolling clouds, the same masses of movement and flight in the landscape, the same strong and dramatic choice of colour: greens and blues veering towards greys and blacks, intensely red blood landscapes tinged with purple and poisonous yellow accents. The very method of painting accentuates the drama: thick layers poured on with spatulas, rapid strokes, forceful movements, stormy, orgiastic.

Goya’s landscape was the wide, Spanish plains which Napoleon’s troops torched and pillaged as they progressed. Pia Andersen’s landscape is a Danish corn field as she sees it from her house in North-West Zealand, with the Great Belt on the western horizon. Here, she follows the cycles of the seasons, the day, and the weather; noting the changes in light and colour which take place from day to day, from one hour to the next. She records the impressions from the outer landscape in her mind, transforming them internally, so that the drama subsequently played out on the canvas is more akin to an inner landscape – an abstraction. In physical terms, she constructs her landscapes from layers upon layers of thick oils, added on in a manner which lets the light reflect off the many-faceted, relief-like surfaces.

The four small landscapes were created during the raging of a November storm. They constitute the climax of the artist’s work this autumn and act as a continuation of a series of large-scale landscapes which Pia Andersen has painted in recent months. Taken as a whole, these landscapes can be characterised as representing the calm before the storm. They all take the cornfield as their point of departure: the expanse of soil, covered in grain and wild flowers, the sea like a small strip of light in the horizon – always located high up in the image – and the sky above with no movement whatsoever; utterly calm. Here, there are no drifting clouds or stormy skies, no rapid strokes or forceful movements. Instead, we witness a magnificent serenity; the line of the horizon is stable, and an almost heavenly light suffuses the landscape.

The impressions vary according to the seasons and the time of day. The first signs of spring with light green shoots against the dark soil. Flowering fruit trees clad in white. High, Nordic summer skies which never grow fully dark. Poppies colouring the fields as red as blood. The cerulean blues of the cornflowers penetrating the deep greens of the grass. The ripe, whitish-golden cornfield beneath a dark harvest sky slashed by summer lighting, the wild lights of nature. The burnt cornfield with blacks in the yellow. The golden foliage of autumn and the glowing splendour of the dahlias against a pinkish red sunset.

Titles such as refraction, glare, and sea of light indicate that light is the primary concern. Pia Andersen is capable of suffusing her landscapes with light which seems to come from a world beyond this. A dream-world, where the landscapes make a smooth transition to become abstract images of a state of mind. From here, Goya’s fantasies are not far off.

Allis Helleland, director of the Danish National Museum of Fine Arts