Ochre Reflections


Uffe Christoffersen

Ochre Reflections


Museum manager Finn Terman Frederiksen, Randers Artmuseum

Burnt ochre Tiger. 130 x 162 cms. 2007

Uffe Christoffersen (born 1947) was educated between 1968 and 1974 at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen, where he was tutored by Harald Leth and Egill Jacobsen. He made his debut in 1971 at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition and was a member of the famous artist group Violet Sun from 1974-88.

During his time at the academy Uffe Christoffersen combined his intense artistic concentration on the essence of colour with several years of technical colour experimentsin the Academy of Art’s Colour Laboratory. At the end of his studies he was engaged as part-time teacher in the laboratory from 1975-83.

Since his debut in the beginning of the seventies Uffe Christoffersen has been a very frequent exhibitor in Denmark as well as abroad. Since 1990 he has been resident in France, in Fontarèches, a village with only 150 inhabitants.

Uffe Christoffersen is widely known for his colourful depictions of wild animals. Especially the tiger has become his favourite animal subject. He often focuses on the single individual animal in detail or in full figure. He also paints groups of tigers fighting, playing, copulating, hunting and consuming their prey, as well as other motifs. The individual motifs are often repeated and varied in different picture formats.

Uffe Christoffersen is however not first and foremost interested in depicting the outward appearance and biological behaviour of these large savage animals. He is not an animal painter in the traditional mould, but a modern colorist painter, using the animal motif as his means to open up the power of expression in colour. For him colour is the most important means of expression, while the subject matter and the more or less abstract form which he gives it are ‘merely’ tools serving to articulate the content in a coloristic exuberance.

Uffe Christoffersen’s painting is decidedly expressionistic, i.e. psychologically mirroring the self. The strong colours in his painting express first and foremost a strong energy in his own psyche. When he lets his orgies of colour roar out in violent depictions of savage animals, he is at the same time acknowledging that the inner power that controls his painting instincts and shows in his art is a primeval energy akin to that which controls the instincts of an animal of prey. His vibrantly coloured tiger pictures can also be related to a general human content. In his book “Tiger Sun” (1997) the artist comments on a French psychiatrist’s pronouncement at these tiger pictures do not actually represent animals, but human beings: “Maybe he is right in that I rather paint animals to express human relationships and feelings.”

Uffe Christoffersen calls his exhibition OCHRE REFLECTIONS. This is related to the fact that ochre colours have become alpha and omega in his painting universe and that he at the turn of the century has reached a definite decisive point in his celebration of them.

Since his younger years in the 1970s Uffe Christoffersen has above all concentrated on digging out the qualities of these colours, in a practical way in his paintings and through intense technical colour analysis. As an alternative to mass-produced tube paints he started experimenting with the production of inorganic paints and mixing pigment shavings in linseed oil.

In his painting the glowing yellow and red cadmium colours and the deep blue ultramarine became early main coloristic themes. The organic antithesis to the strong synthetic colours he found in the earth colours, especially the yellow and red ochre colours, which soon filled his special sphere of interest and has held on to it ever since. In his work with ochre he has often used Løvskal-ochre, i.e. the organic pigment dug out of the ground near the village of Løvskal between Randers and Viborg. The most decisive element in his passionate association with ochre colours was a study trip in 1979 to the ochre pits at Rousillon about 70 km north of Marseille, now closed. The main elements in Uffe Christoffersen’s colorism were therefore on the one hand the natural organic ochre colours and on the other hand a series of synthetic yellow and red cadmium pigments plus ultramarine blue. His constant problem has been to get these natural and artificial colours to work together and combine in a superior coloristic unity. This has proved difficult because the ochre colours do not have the intense reflection of light which can be seen in the open air when the sun makes the slopes of the ochre pits glow with colour, when they are mixed in linseed oil, painted on canvas and viewed indoors.

To find ways to compensate for this weakness and make the ochre colours useable in painting side by side with the cadmium colours, the artist has for many years made systematic outdoor studies of shaded ochre surfaces exposed to reflections from lighted cadmium painted surfaces. He discovered in the course of these experiments how the ‘dead’ shaded ochre surfaces were ‘resurrected’ (i.e. regained much of their sunlit intensity) with the help of these cadmium reflectors. This gave him the idea to awaken the ochre pigments in painting by mixing the related ochre and cadmium colours in pairs and then add white, to further lighten the colours. For example he could thus for indoor use recreate a yellow ochre’s ability to reflect light which he knew from the outdoors in the sun, by mixing a cadmium between yellow and white. In the same way a Havana ochre could be ‘resurrected’ by mixing cadmium orange and white. The colours restored in this way became so strongly reflective that it was possible to use them as coloristically equally valid painting colours side by side with the cadmium colours.

It is this revolutionary innovation and clarification in Uffe Christoffersen’s choice of colour that is for the first time presented here in the exhibition OCHRE REFLECTIONS.

Finn Terman Frederiksen