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I ønskes alle en rigtig glædelig jul og et super godt nytår !
A. TIGER. 55×46 cm. 2012. www.uffechristoffersen.net
In 1900 the Theatre Restaurant opened in a corner of Århus Theatre’s building. It was the architect Hack Kampmann who designed the rooms and the painter and sculptor Karl Hansen-Reistrup who completed a very long frieze consisting of wild animals as a fresco in the whole restaurant. The room has been put to many different uses during the last 100 years and this has been one of the causes of the degradation of the frieze. However a fragment 3 metres long by 1 metre high remains. This depicts a tiger with its gaze fixed on some vine ranker with clusters of grapes at the top of the picture.
Café Hack has now been reopened, designed by the architect Mads Møller from C F Møller’s Architect Group, so that the bar is situated in front of a 15 metre long wall. The fragment of the old frieze is situated at the top left of the wall and it was my job to continue the frieze in a new interpretation, so that the old piece was retained and integrated in the new version, in a way that shows clearly which part is which. Some sketches and photos of Hansen-Reistrup’s animal frieze still exist.
They depict tigers and lions in harmonious union enjoying life and eating grapes. It is almost a state of paradise created to give the café room a distinguished style and create an idyllic mood. Zoologically no traces have ever been found of wild lions in Asia, nor wild tigers in Africa. It is absolutely impossible for the two animal kings, being equally strong, to tolerate each other – and by the way neither of them eats grapes!
Inspired by the combination of tigers and grapes in the café’s frieze I couldn’t help thinking about the Greek legend related by Plutarch about Dionysus (or Bacchus, the power of nature and the god of wine)
Plutarch explains that Dionysius was madly in love with an Asiatic princess, Alphesibée. One day when the princess was out walking with her companions, she caught sight of a large tiger coming towards them, which started to play. The tiger, who was Dionysius in disguise, quickly managed to separate the princess from her companions. He chased the beauty until they reached the River Sollax and she could no longer flee from him. The tiger offered to take the princess on its back, but jumped into the river with her and swam to the opposite bank….
They had many offspring and the river was named after the nymph and the tiger. It was called the Tigris. With this inspirational starting point I now had a motivation for painting the 15 metre long frieze with Karl Hansen-Reistrup’s remaining fragment integrated in the fable.
In the original frieze Karl Hansen-Reistrup has with natural ease used earth colours to paint the ochre-coloured animals, because most animals of prey are these colours, apart from the dark stripes or spots.
Earth colours and their use up through the ages have always fascinated me. The oldest paintings we know of are cave paintings created over 25,000 years ago. These spectacular animal pictures are painted with ochre colours in so powerful a style that even today they make a great impression on present day humans. Recently, not more than 30 kilometres from where I live in the South of France, subterranean caves have been found full of animal pictures. In one of the caves there is a long frieze with lots of lion /tiger heads painted with a single earth colour in a powerful calligraphic style. The name “ochre” is thought to derive from the Greek “ochos” meaning “sallow” or “pale yellow” actually rather a misnomer as ochre colours often possess enormously powerful colours. The raw material, which mainly consists of clay, coloured by yellow, red or reddish-brown iron compounds, is to be found in larger or smaller amounts all over the world. They can vary considerably, for example, from the yellow or yellowish-brown Italian Terra di Sienna, to the red or reddish-brown Spanish ochre. Actually the colours differ not only from geographical location to location but also within the individual location.
In the large ochre pits in this area a great variation of colour can be seen, from pale pink over greenish, yellow and orange nuances, to the deepest red and dark violet – caput mortuum. The strong sunlight which shines on the yellow or reddish yellow slopes causes them to shine brilliantly as a great contrast to the cerulean blue of the sky. The dark green pine trees that grow in this area are covered with a fine layer of ochre dust, which is whirled up constantly by the wind, so that it almost disguises the vegetation’s natural colour scheme. But first and foremost it is the richness of colour tones in the ochre material itself that is important and which inspires me in my painting.
In the sun the ochre colours can almost reach the same intensity as the synthetic yellow, orange and red cadmium colours, while they become subtle yellowy brown colours in the shade. In the same way the tiger’s yellowish brown coat shines in the sun, while it blends with the surroundings in the shadow because of its combination of stripes and subtle colours. This is in reality an interaction which suits this temperamental beast well.
One thing is what one sees and experiences in nature, it is something else completely when one is standing in front of the easel having to translate these often contrasting ideas or feelings into images. One has to penetrate into the subject matter itself and thus find out what one really want to do. Therefore I have started on the job in Café Hack with great enthusiasm, – a 15 metre long challenge with a built-in traditional fragment in earth colours.
The way I use earth colours is an attempt at using them as one sees them and experiences them in nature in different lights. Through systematic studies I have discovered a way to compensate for the weakening of the colours which occurs when the paint comes into the studio in the form of a tube, out of which a brown substance can be squeezed onto the palette. My experiments have included the theory of colour, pigments, fixing agents and undercoat colours.
If one studies the frieze from left to right one sees Karl Hansen-Reistrup’s tiger fragment as a starting point. To mark in a clear way the transition to the new part I have placed to the right of it a standing blue tiger, seen from the front as a vertical movement in the picture. Further to the left Dionysius can be seen as a tiger with Alphesibée on its back.
The red tiger in the middle of the frieze is on its way towards Dionysius looking back towards the other active tigers. If the Dionysius figure symbolises the artificial, the disguised, the theatrical, then this tiger depicts the observer which approaches the picture to see better and therefore to understand his fellow humans , – or tigers!
The five tigers in the right hand half of the frieze move in the picture in such a way that creates a figure of eight movement and represent the active and positive life-principle, as an echo of Bacchus’s festive amorous scene. The picture can also be studied from right to left, as on the far right of the frieze I have placed a large yellow tiger head facing left. The difference in size between this head and the other figures accentuates the space in the picture. It is coming out at you and welcomes you in a festive way. It lures you into the picture.
The room itself, which is decorated very tastefully, is dominated by a red ochre colour on the walls. Painted with a technique going right back to the Greek wall paintings (Encaustic), where one mixes melted wax into the colour pigment, which is then smoothed to an even, beautiful, living surface. The Romans later adopted this technique (Stucco lustro) which was used in the Pompeian wall paintings. This very beautiful and characteristic red colour (Pompeian red) gives a positive sounding board in the room to set off the various ochre colours in the frieze. These two colours interplay eminently, where the red surface is smooth and calm in contrast to the frieze which, being painted on canvas, has a more structured surface with different colour vibrations.
As the frieze is situated high up on the wall, I have allowed the animals to look diagonally down on the audience to created further contact. In this way it is my hope and desire that the people in the theatre café should experience something that is different and special for this place. For my own part I love to just sit and look at the picture and allow my thoughts to fly, and this picture gives one ample reason to do so, in my opinion.
Whether it be intense, powerful, so sharp that is screams out, or wide and dazzling as molten metal, yellow is the most informative and most burning color. It is difficult to extinguish and breaks all the bonds one tries to tie it down with.
The sun’s rays break through the azure of heaven and show the power of the divine sphere above: Amongst the Aztecs’ gods, Huitzilopochtli, who is the victorious warrior and the god of the midday sun, is always painted yellow and blue in the pictures.
Yellow is the masculine colour, which brings light and life into the yellow/blue duo, and cannot be made dark. It has such a tendency to remain light, that no dark yellow exists. Yellow is therefore closely related to white. It brings youth, strength and youthful eternity.
The colour red is universally known as a symbol of the principle of life because of its intensity. But red, the colour of blood and fire, also has a symbolic ambiguity that depends on whether the red is light or dark.
Light, clear red, which is intense and extroverted, belongs to the day. It is fresh and invites action by projecting its light onto the world, like an enormous and invincible sun. It attracts.
A really dark red, on the other hand, is of the night, secretive and almost introverted. It is the symbol of the mystery of life. It warns, restrains. It is the colour of the forbidden, of the lamps of the old red-light districts.
I have always thought that there was something missing in the red artists’ colours that you can buy nowadays. When you look at sunlight through a glass of red wine an infinite number of nuances of colour appear, from the deepest shades of red to a bright red that jumps out at you with the energy of a turbojet.
How can I get to a deep red which is not a dark cadmium red, a rose carmine or an imitation red cinnabar, but a rich red that feels right artistically and at the same time is more ambiguous than the simple synthetic colours that are everywhere?
It is here that red natural cinnabar comes into the picture. The largest and most important source of this mineral is in southern Spain, where it has been extracted and made into pigment since ancient times. It was used for the frescoes of Pompeii, and it was used early in the Renaissance with Lapis Lazuli and gold to create the icons of the Sienna School.
The process of extracting the mineral and transforming it into pigment was very expensive, and this is why a substitute was sought, just as alternatives have been sought for lots of other colours throughout history.
The process of producing a synthetic cinnabar red was begun in the Arab world in the 7th and 8th centuries. They mixed mercury and pulverised sulphur and heated this to 600°C, thus producing a uniform red pigment that they could use in their art.
By placing several pieces of unworked natural cinnabar crystals together and studying them under lighting conditions which ranged from bright sunlight to deep shadow, I could see how the clear red surfaces that were illuminated reflected their colours onto the surfaces of the crystals that were in shadow. This made the colours in the shadows change to a much richer, fuller red instead of being just a normal flat shadow colour.
These rich reds can be achieved by mixing pigments together. I do it simply by mixing synthetic cinnabar red (vermilion) pigment with other colours. In order to make a clean colour that can be used as both a light and a dark red, I add white, yellow, red ochre, alizarin crimson or madder, according to how warm or cold I want the red to be. Then I paint the red on top of, for example, a cold green, a lemon yellow or another colour. This brings the red alive. I never use red on red, however, as this kills it completely…
I live in a village which functions for part of the year as a collection point for sheep. More than ten thousand sheep arrive at the place in great lorries. The lorries have several storeys so there can be quite a lot of sheep in them. The columns of lorries always arrive in the autumn after the sheep have been up in the mountains to graze. After arriving they are divided up into smaller flocks which go round the countryside, driven by a shepherd and 4-5 dogs, which are unbelievably good at defending their flock against attack from strange dogs, foxes and thieves. The dogs keep the flocks together, too.
Sheep are exposed to many dangers, animals of prey are not limited to one place. They are everywhere, disguised or not so disguised. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. You can recognise them by their instincts. by their ruthlessness. Here and now. By their mode of attack.
My own dog once ran off to chase sheep. It came home covered in blood to be met with a face expressing surprise and worry. I thought I knew the dog. But nature has its own cycle. Even though a dog can be calm and disciplined, a role model for other dogs, it has its aspects, just as other species have theirs. Its behaviour can seem unpredictable and intangible. My eyes seek out this focus when the schism between nature and culture has to stand its test.