“ART” has visited
who has been living in France
for 17 years,
and has never tired of
“Why do I paint tigers? Because they are beautiful creatures. Because they never cease to fascinate me. Because they are the whole world. Because they can still get me to paint good pictures. But add to that that the subject itself is really without consequence for the painter – which cannot be said of painting itself. A good painter can in principle paint a glass of water his whole life, and continue to paint interesting pictures. Of course he changes, and the light changes all the time. Thus he will always create new pictures. And if he is a really good painter the subject is completely without consequence.” says Uffe Christoffersen.
ART magazine visited the painter in the little village of Fontarèches in Provence in the south of France. Sixteen years ago he moved down here with his wife, Annette Hoff-Jessen, who is also a painter. He already had a long career as a painter behind him, which culminated in the years when he was a member of the artists’ group Violet Sun, a group which was everybody’s darling back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the group were among others; Niels Reumert, Gunnar Møller, Per Bågøe, Jørgen Teik Hansen, Jørgen Haugen Johansen, and Uffe Christoffersen himself.
After Violet Sun
Violet Sun was a party as long as it lasted. But when the group disbanded in 1988 it was difficult for several of the members of the group to find their own foothold again.
“I was against splitting up. But I had to admit on the other hand that our time was over. Be that as it may I felt a restlessness afterwards, which made me start to re-evaluate what I wanted to do as a painter. Gradually the thought started to form in my mind that I could move, so my wife went off to the South of France to look for a place to live and work. We found the place in a little town, Fontarèches, which dates back to Roman times. Here we found an old ruined house, which we renovated and fitted out with a studio and space to express ourselves.” says Uffe Christoffersen.
The time in France has meant a great deal for his painting.
“The light is completely different here to what it is in Denmark. Clearer, sharper, because the sun is higher up in the sky. When the Mistral wind, which blows down across the country, blows, it’s as if it cleanses everything and makes the countryside stand out more sharply. The vegetation is completely different, for example the great fields of grapevines around us, and that puts its stamp on the colours,” says the artist.
Wild Life Painters
Animals have always been one of the most durable of subjects. Tigers, lions, oxen and eagles are among the most favourite animal subjects up through history. As themselves, but also as symbols. Rulers have for example been depicted as lions or eagles, and at the other end of the scale, donkeys and snakes symbolise stupid or cunning attributes of human beings.
For Uffe Christoffersen the symbolic meaning of the tiger has never played any role. But recently he has started to be interested in old fables about tigers.
“I started to rummage about in Æsop’s old fables about animals, especially tigers, and then went on to La Fontaine, who has continued Æsop’s good work. This culminated in a series of pictures which took one of these small fables as their starting point. Not because I wanted to illustrate the individual fable as such, but I wanted rather to gain sustenance from it. Many of these fables have actually a very visual quality in their telling. And that I could use,” says Uffe Christoffersen.
At the exhibition at Corner this year the artist showed a long series of his tiger fable pictures – they must have touched a nerve somewhere because they were all sold.
The First Tiger
But when did the tiger motif show up in Uffe Christoffersen’s work? It can be traced right back to his childhood. He moved to Africa when he was 7 years old. There were no actual tigers where he was, but other wild creatures were a continual problem. In the seven-year old’s imagination the wild animals of prey took on enormous proportions and became a hazed mixture of fear and fascination.
“The tiger showed up in a more concrete form when I was at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen. After my first period there I was a student at the School of Art Teaching under Helge Bertram. We were working with colour separations and were sent out to the Zoo to photograph animals. I chose to photograph tigers in their cages and became deeply fascinated by the beautiful great animals which paced restlessly up and down in their cages. Just looking at the colour contrasts in their stripes seen against the black bars was beautiful,” remembers Uffe Christoffersen. He was sold. He had found “his subject”. Subsequently he went out to the Zoo several times to draw the powerful animals.
“I discovered more and more that the tigers had everything one could wish of a good subject; exciting proportions, inner strength, movement, beauty and mystery,” says the artist.
The Power of Colour
Uffe Christoffersen is quite obviously an expressionist painter. And his greatest weapon is his colour. And here he is scientific in his passion.
“I have for example been fascinated by ochre. I have found several variations of it down here in the South of France, where I have visited several ochre pits to study the colour and its constituent parts. In one of the ochre pits, in Roussillon, I saw how the ochre lit up the slopes in great stripes. Then I decided to let the vertical ochre stripes, which shone yellow and red in the sun, be the inspiration for my paintings,” tells Uffe Christoffersen.
Today he is connected to three galleries in Denmark, Galerie Annette birch in Copenhagen, Galleri Gammel Lejre in Lejre and the Gallery of Jørgen Østergaard in Ikast. And his paintings are literally torn down off the walls by keen customers every single time. This is real success. Uffe Christoffersen has also exhibited at several Danish Museums of Art.
In the real world tigers are a threatened species. In Uffe Christoffersen’s image world they are beloved and sought after. Their roar fascinates and excites.
Editor of ART magazine and editor of DK4’s art programme “Art in Focus”