Bo Bjerggaard

Ivan Andersen

07 Feb - 05 Apr 2008

© Ivan Andersen
Living in a Box, 2008
Mixed media on mdf panel
121 cm x 178 cm
"It's all downhill from here"

7. February - 5. April

Movement is the true motif
"Yesterday I saw Real Madrid playing against Lazio. It was the best half Real Madrid has played for eight months. There was not a superfluous movement. It reminded me of the time when I was a farmer feeding the cows. When work was going well, it took place as in a choreographed ballet. There was not one superfluous movement. The most important thing was that the cows had to be in on it, too. And they were".[i] - Hans Otto Jørgensen.
It is too obvious to start a text about Ivan Andersen's painting with a description of his world of motifs. For this world has something safely recognizable about it. We understand what we see. Towering blocks of flats, a container ship in heavy seas, cars on their way through the picture, bridges we have to cross, urban sceneries, etc. It is about something. We can describe the motifs with words and have conversations about them, which is excellent, because it means that Ivan Andersen's painting is really obliging towards its viewer. It is immediately accessible. But only immediately. For not everything in Ivan's painting can be told in this way. There are places in his paintings where language encounters resistance. This happens where we cannot at once find a word or a concept for our experience. Language has to bend over backwards. Otherwise it cannot express these abstract elements and displacements, which draw motifs together. And then we have come to my starting point for a description of Ivan Andersen's painting. I am interested in the actual way it is built up. It is the way he constructs a picture almost like a jigsaw puzzle: he has a vocabulary of painting styles, motifs and tricks, which he brings into play in almost all his compositions. The elements of the painting are not placed side by side but are fused and integrated in a continuous compositorial movement. It has to resolve itself some way or other. If not to form a synthesis, then at least in a gliding movement, which may have its fractures, notches and odd compositorial distortions. But even seemingly absentminded 'drips' and unmotivated brushstrokes seem planned and conscious to the same degree as the naturalistically painted motifs, which, by the way, Andersen takes from the urban reality just outside his studio. What, then, is this method of his about?
It may be said that Andersen practices composition as if it was choreography. The purely motoric elements in the act of painting are stressed again and again, but in a stylized and almost emblematic way. The choreographer must link up a number of isolated paintings or scenes in a dynamic sequence. The same is true about Andersen. Whether one surrenders or not to one of the paintings is decided by the way the detail fits into the total sequence. The slightest detail must be in place when the show rolls across the stage. This painting is to a certain extent both show and showing off. To seduce the eye with pictorial flattery and unsteady elegance. Make it distort itself compositorily around a series of distortions and picturesque surprises. The space of the town enters into the space of the painting, and vice versa. The gaze becomes scenic because the town as well as the painting are seen as a stage. That is, an illusionary space where drama can take place.
Calculated errors, dripping noise and bleeding colours wind their way in and out of the motifs as footnotes I cannot see through. All these commentaries to the construction of the painting itself, are they not really what this is all about? Abstract short circuits dismantle the story of the picture and turn it into strips of shredded meaning. Look for this very thing! All that cannot be a 'figure' remains a potentiality. Away to the next painting; a digital design-like line cuts in and out of a house, grey asphalt is spread out like melted ice, planes are broken up and connected to others behind them. A car, a tree, a bench, a bit of pavement, are stand-ins for the viewer in this pictorial world. Or you are this girly-mauve moped that has withdrawn in a mantle of irony and black humour. A chugging explorer looking for the poetry of deserted garages. As if Stonehenge was to be found in a secret place in the middle of it all, like a dead angle in the infrastructure of the town. There are still white spots on the map of painting. White canvas peeps out. Time out! But it doesn't last. For all the time some new element or other is sent in across the field. As if motifs and picture planes were set pieces competing among themselves about getting in front. Be seen! Pushing right on to the outermost plane of the picture and take part in the construction of it. And so give themselves up as 'constructions in the painting'. Step into visibility. For a short period. For everything is transformed: The blocks of flats emerge from wet or crisp textures. Painting becomes motif and motif painting in what looks like an effortless, playful process. Other motifs are sucked clean and unmasked in a sudden sweeping movement. Silhouettes frozen in a meaningful vacuum. Perhaps movement is the true motif in Ivan's art. Abstract mobility. And this basic motif is then supported by all recognizable motifs: motorways, pavements, cars, (lots of them!), aeroplanes. Fragments of the infrastructure of the town. All that ties the town together. And which enables us to meet so that the banalities of everyday life can be dramatised in these scenic constructions that we call 'images'.
In many of Ivan's paintings he places the viewer on a pavement. And from there we look in or out at the world. The pavement? What kind of a place is that? It is not really a place for the simple reason that it is a base constructed so that it should be possible to move along it. It is only the down-and-outs, the pushers and the maladjusted hoodlums, who never have had a home to go back to, who remain on the pavement. And the painters, one might add. One is outside, when one is there. And that is where he places us. Nowhere. With a free view all around. And viewing the world does indeed require that one is at a distance from it. In Andersen's paintings we often look at windows with the curtains drawn. That is paradoxical in itself. For the distance places us outside and makes us antisocial. At the same time, distance is necessary in order to be able to describe the world. No distance, no description. And certainly no painting.
Ivan Andersen has placed himself in several of his paintings. In one of them he is this well-dressed dark and secretive shadow who is sitting in an armchair, smoking contemplatively. The artist has withdrawn to a comfortable darkness. As if he himself knew the master plan behind all fragments and clues, which these paintings are full of. We as viewers must be detectives, who try to piece it all together in a meaningful and logical narrative, which reveals a deeper meaning: the nature of crime and the real motive behind all the other motifs. The main motive. All the time Ivan shows us what he does and how he does it. We can see that there the orange spray-can enters the picture, and there paint has been drawn across the canvas with a cloth, and there the painting has been lying on the floor for the paint to spread, etc. Why was this done? What is the motive and explanation? The painting says everything about how, but nothing about why. And there are certainly no answers to why Ivan's paintings, which are full of tricks. That is to say, false leads that do not lead anywhere. The paining unfolds the world as an illusionistic dance. We have a free view from the front rows of the pavement theatre.
Much can be said about Andersen's world of motifs: suburban architecture, non-existing places, the urban space without history but with its ambivalent feeling of freedom, the urban design, the alienation in it, and the beauty of emptiness, digital processes, the aesthetics of the middle classes that dominate the welfare state, etc., etc. There are lots of things to describe. When I look at Ivan Andersen's paintings, however, my eye keeps gliding away from the motifs. I sort of land in these fields of gestic splotches and purely pictorial effects. Full stop! And then one looks into the abstract, multi-coloured picturesque mud on the canvas, which does not have any higher meaning. And comes to feel at ease there. It is a paradoxical recording of freedom, which takes place in these fields. For even the loose, sloppy and unmotivated chaotic elements in the paintings are always carefully integrated into a whole. So, freedom is organized. The chaotic is calculated. Carefully calculated. 'It must be placed there' is what the painter seems to say about his elegant squirts. There in the corner, or at the top. Perhaps towards the middle, but indeed, there it is. The jazz in the painting. The little improvised break. Here the painter can breathe and let go of his disciplined painting for a bit. Just act, culpably, if necessary, without any motive. Unmotivated. But if the picturesque exuberance has been assigned a place in the painting then it is indeed organized from the start. One is reminded of Icelandic Björk when she sings, 'I tried to organize freedom, how Scandinavian of me'.
It makes sense to see Ivan Andersen's painting in the light of this theme of the status of liberty in the Scandinavian welfare state. So let me make a very vulgar observation: when Andersen's compositions are described as above, they come to share the qualities of the social democrat welfare state. The welfare state, like Ivan's paintings, is rather tolerant towards various forms of expression. What is important is that these forms can be integrated into the larger social order. What cannot be integrated is not functional. It does not contribute to the composition. It is anti-compositional and antisocial. And the work is simply not finished until the last part of it has been integrated in the inner social structure of the painting itself. When the work is finished, the material has established its own inner logic. Everything is interrelated, and all parts interact. The painting reaches the point where it can breathe on its own. It becomes its own little autonomous body politic, where everything is organized. We can tolerate chaos and wildness in our state. Only the authorities must know the precise time and duration. That's settled, then! For we organize everything. Freedom and all included.
Well, this parallel between Ivan Andersen's painting and the organization of the social democrat welfare state is of course quite unreasonable, but on the other hand it is also very reasonable. It demands amplification. Direct parallels between the structure of a picture and the political structure are often farfetched. Typically, that sort of consideration leads to oversimplified readings of the artworks as well as the politics. But on the other hand we know that art is part of the society that surrounds us at any given moment. And here we are approaching what is reasonable in this view. For all the naturalistic elements in Ivan's paintings have indeed not come from nothing. They hail from the urban space, part of them even from the urban space of Copenhagen. Ivan's paintings are not just about how the painting itself finds an inner form of organization. They are also about how the urban space is organized, about its architecture and infrastructure. And what forms of freedom this organization offers. In the beginning I wrote about the way Ivan Andersen composes a picture. You do not have to be paranoid. But on the other hand! Composition cannot but touch on something fundamentally political, because the composition is about the way the picture must be organized, so that this picture can represent a world.
This somewhat 'twisted' political reading of Ivan Andersen's art will hopefully surprise him. For why else write about art? We only do it because we organize the very experience of art through communication about it. But I wonder if a different perspective is not also possible: 'If you describe, it is - if nothing else - to point to that which otherwise would not have been noticed, that is, to add your own comment to the visible'[ii].

Enjoy Ivan Andersen's new paintings!

Ferdinand Ahm Krag

Translated by Helene Heldager - Wordmaster

[i] 'The farmer who found a true sentence'. Interview with Hans Otto Jørgensen. Weekendavisen No. 51 - December 21st 2007
[ii] 'Duchamp The TRANSformators'. Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. 2000.

Tags: Ivan Andersen