ÅSE HØJER - MAJ 1999 The spacious atelier which artist Åse Højer shares with two other painters in Østerbro has a wide horizon, both literally and metaphorically. Åse Højer needs all the space. First and foremost for her paintings: the large canvases and the slightly smaller ones, those completed and those still in process; and also for her materials: the forest of brushes and palette-knifes; the rags and the old newspapers necessary to the work of painting; and the sea of paint tubes whose contents will give form to her thoughts, feelings and memories. The atelier also contains her sketches with new ideas; and then there are the many curios and objects that give character to the atelier, each of which embraces an experience or an important recollection which Åse Højer can use in her painting.
“For me the work first has meaning when there enters an exploration or investigative process. Otherwise it is just a mechanical process. The question is always the same: how can I tell the story that is so necessary to tell? I am very convinced that it is precisely in narratives that we find our common human umbilical cord. Stories are the way in which we orient ourselves in relationship to ourselves, to others, and to our surroundings. A picture is an unspoken thought, or seen in a slightly larger perspective, a current of energy. As such it serves my goal for the absolute or ideal painting. In my work I approach this goal by building on recollections and experiences. Above all it must be fun, exciting, and challenging to paint, or it doesn’t - for me - hold meaning.
What characterizes the artistic world you work in? What drives or motivates your work?
There is all the time an exploration - an “AH-HA” experience that I open myself to, or even cast myself toward. Some of my pictures are guided by and built up around themes which I wish to express in my own colours. Colors are the axis or pivot of the work. Normally I start with laying down the paint on the canvas, preferably by using large brush strokes. The question then immediately poses itself: “How far can one colour stretch another; what do they have to say to each other?” In fact that’s the way the stories begin, because the way in which I lay down the first brush strokes inspires to the next stroke and after a while the various tones emerge.
But is there still a story in the colours?
Yes, it starts in the colours and then I begin to compose: to seek lines and levels. I often look for horizons. You could use the metaphor that the work should occur at the border between shoreline and sea, precisely there where you let go but still have a toe either on the land or in the water. There the magical line exists, and there light is especially strong . And so I am always working on several levels, because I would like for you, the viewer, to enter into the picture.
Does it ever happen that you lose the horizon, or let it go?
Yes and no. But seen over a period of time my pictures mirror a “releasing” of the horizon. Earlier I worked with animals, birds. I was compelled to have birds in my pictures. When I look back, it is clear that this had something to do with myself - my life and maybe my dreams. A bit like flying because I felt light and free - or in any case I felt that I was moving forward. The bird was likely a symbol of movement - and in those years I traveled a lot, and worked also at my atelier in Spain for longer periods of time. Then, at one point the birds began to fly away, and in the end I couldn’t paint birds any longer - it was totally impossible. The last birds I painted were in a commissioned work, and it took me an endlessly long time to finish. They had simply flown away - the birds. It was interesting to experience so clearly a closure to this “Bird epoch or era”
After the birds there emerged human figures - faceless figures. I was still working very colouristically but probably less concretely and with the wish to gain greater control over the colours’ internal relationships and differences. I let go of the “horizon” but a completely abstract picture language did not emerge. Instead of using geometrically closed forms I chose the harmonic form that the body has the harmonic form that the body has merely as an object with dimensions of weight and content.
The anonymous form of the human figure became the starting point for the narratives or the stories in my painting. And this is how it still is. Once in a while the bodies and faces receive an identity, other times they remain an abstraction. In other words, you can still glimpse “the horizon” in some of my paintings and in others it is gone. Sometimes the painting ends as a picture of something, and other times it becomes a picture about something.
I know that you and your family have had a house in Andalusia for the past 15 years. How has this influenced your painting and your use of colours?
Of course Andalusia has influenced my painting very much, both the colours and the subjects. This is due not least to the dramatic mountains, the wonderful light, the clear, clear air and the exquisite peace. Earlier I experienced that when I took the paintings home to Denmark the colours seemed incredibly insistent . At that time when I painted down there I had to use very clear colours and very large contrasts in order to evoke that which I sought in the motif. Afterwards when the pictures arrived home in Denmark they jarred markedly with the Danish Grey tone scale and they were very strong, once in a while too strong. But this has also changed over time. I still love the strong colours but I have become better at taming and sculpting them a bit more - it has resulted in a little more harmony in the colours.
You practice meditation - what influence has this on your painting or is it just a part of your daily life?
Meditation is a large part of my life and thereby of course related to my painting. I do not believe that you can separate the two. Meditation is a very great help in life. It brings a greater concentration, a larger tolerance. If a painting has gotten into “knots” it often helps to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes. Not so infrequently it happens that the picture nearly by itself helps itself forward - formulates itself again.
There is a touch of the religious in many of your paintings, where does it come from?
I don’t know if I am religious in the traditional sense but it is clear for me that to paint is the same thing as to seek - and so maybe also to seek answers to the big and little questions in life. As time goes by the big questions in life become more and more relevant for one. I continue to run into the right persons who can satisfy my curiosity on this matter. I don’t mean that I have found the philosopher's stone. But I feel myself very secure precisely here where I am today. Still with the same zest for life, for it is this zest together with curiosity which is the motivating force - also in my painting.
A few years ago I participated in a lovely exhibition in Øksneshall in Copenhagen, “Under Another Sky”. It was a large exhibition with 80 artists from the whole world, primarily who live in exile gathered together. Despite different religious and non-religious observances I felt a universal energy in many of the works. After all love is the only creative force here in life. Art is created in my opinion through love; an artist seeks the truth in order to find freedom – may be in the end to find God, the sacred, or whatever you choose to name it.
Who was your artistic mentor? One of my great “heroes” is Edvard Weie. Throughout his whole life he sought to demand from colors their utmost character, in order thereby - with a single stroke - to tell the story of painting. This sublime control of colour can give me palpitations. He was a very great colourist.
What is your artistic vision, your goal? My goal is to achieve a deep understanding of the nature of colour, and to tell the story with as simple effects as possible. It is like being possessed when you are a practicing artist; you are always preoccupied - in my case with pictures. I believe that I am timeless in my time. I cannot separate the I who creates the picture and the picture which creates itself - it is very fluid process. The shift from colors to images is always very subtle. It is similar to reading a good novel: you feel that you sense the direction which the plot will take, but then it often happens that the ending is a lovely surprise. That is how it is with painting. My pictures are never a series. Each painting has is own personality and story. So, my dream as an artist is to be continually present and experimental. To start the morning to music, for example Aubrûne or Maria Callas , and then let the new large canvases become full to their horizons with feelings and narratives - what more could one wish?