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AGAINST REPRESENTATION Conversation with Thorbjorn Bechmann

By Niccolò Tabanelli

Today we move from America to Europe, and we enter the studio of a Danish artist living in Copenhagen, Thorbjorn Bechmann.

Bechmann’s works are large paintings full of bright and iridescent colours. On his instagram page, he alternates landscape photographs with his works. A writer, Vasile Ghica, said “the last night of my life I would like to contemplate a beautiful sunset, not a cold and abstract bank account.” Thorbjorn, looking at your paintings, we seem to be inside a beautiful landscape, where form, space and time don’t exist anymore. What inspires you to paint?

Creation is not a reproduction of observed fact, and I try to avoid any representation in my work, as I believe that representation is the banal, and in many ways mundane, way to make order of art and place it in categories. I’d like to rephrase the words of Susan Sontag as being “against representation.”

How much do we know about reality? Our senses filter everything around us, and we call this reality! According to the director Alejandro Jodorowsky, painting shows what we don’t perceive with our 5 senses! What do you think?

First of all, I don’t think that painting is a picture of an experience. I rather believe it is the root of experiences, like Rothko. But to me, it’s about the work. The production of images that are not already in the world. And I work a lot. I’m an intuitive artist, not an intellectual. Control is my keyword. What can I control, and where do I have to let go and trust the painting, my hands, the colours.

Rothko, with his painting, creates immaterial atmospheres, awesome emotional painting. According to him, “The appreciation of art is a true marriage of minds. And in art, as in marriage, lack of consummation is ground for annulment.” How would you define your painting, and what are you looking for with painting?

If you are good at languages, there are a lot of tools you can use. Rothko had deep spiritual choices, Picasso had multi-eyes in multiple perspectives. When I make a work, I see other artists come out, I recognize it, never hide it. They developed languages, and if I want them, I try to use them. But in the end, I’ll erase them. Then they are informing my pictures from below the surface, sort of being there and gone at the same time. This is an important part of my praxis.

Many populations reach transcendence with sacred rites.

I attended a sacred Andean ceremony two years ago, experiencing a sacred plant.

During the ceremony colours were not how I perceive them every day. Adolf Huxley said, “I understand the Rose now and its colour, before this experience it was just a rose!”

Have you ever had this kind of experience?

Yes, but I try to keep them away from my work. As I said, I’m not a painter of spirituality. I’m creating images that are not in the world already. Paintings that I miss in contemporary society. Barnett Newman used to stand in front of his stripes and say, “I want emotional excess.” The question is how, so instead of demanding something from my work, I just let it out, into the world. And as I must do my work, so must my paintings do their work.

Art is a mission. The artist is like a saint, and he works by vocation; he doesn’t think about money. This is my vision. Is it a romantic vision? What is your vision?

To me it is all about the work. And work most be done. Recording my life with brush and paint. This is how it is.

Originally your art seemed much more material; the last period seems more ethereal and rarefied. What materials do you use?

I come from a much more conceptual praxis then where I am today. But five years ago I started painting. That does not mean that this work is a whole new cycle. Every work is the digested sum of all previous works, so the conceptual it here… somewhere. But now I work on canvas, in oil. It’s very traditional. And in a way, I also believe that I’m part of a tradition that reaches way back in history. That in my work you can se what Per Kirkeby described as “the impossibility of seeing art other than through ‘historical spectacles’.”

Which artists are you most influenced by? Think about painting, cinema, music.

There is so much shit and so much great work out there in any field, so its going to be hard. But at the moment I’m re-reading Susan Sontags “Against Interpretation,” listening to new London jazz, and I just saw Zabriskie Point by Michelangelo Antonioni. All very influential work. All very hard to shake off.

How much time do you spend in your studio? How are your works born?

I’m at my studio every day. Some days to work, some days to just hang around and look at my work or adjust small things. Maybe it’s basically to hang around with my work. Anyway, looking, and being around the paintings takes as much time, and probably more, then doing them. I have to find out if they are demystified or still have some kind of free will, or secret components. Also I need the paintings that are around to start new paintings. I look at them to find paradoxes or strange coincidences that can work as starting points for the next work.

In your canvases, spectator eyes swim in purple substances, pink, lilac and celestial fluid!

Can colour tell us more than words?

Colour is an essential quality. It does not say more or less than words. It says something different.

How do you know when a painting is done?

As I said, the way I work is intuitive. Even though I work with initial ideas of shapes and colours, they always fail. What happens instead is a bit like a tennis game between me, my ideas, and the material. The longer the game goes on, the better it feels and the better the result. I hang the paintings and look at them. For months. Some paintings hang in my studio for years until I know they are done. My works are finished if I feel they have reached their peak. As I said, it can take a long time to reach that point, but when I realize it, I am never in doubt.

In times of economic crisis, art is always considered superfluous.

What does it feel like to be an artist in Denmark? Does Denmark help young artists?

Thank you for considering me a “young artist.” Anyway, I think working with art is a privilege. And I think Danish artists are very privileged compared to artists from a lot of other parts of the world. I just got a work-grant from the state, as one of the 200 artist in Denmark who received it this year, and I feel lucky. That being said, I think one of the most important aspects of making art is autonomy. So you have to find ways to live that make you independent. Independence from state, from the art-market, from your parents and peers. That is, if you want to succeed artistically, which is not the same as succeeding financially.

One last suggestion! I reviewed 2001 SPACE ODYSSEY before this interview. The final scene in which David Bowman goes through space/time reminded me a lot of your painting. What’s in your future and in the future of art, what awaits us?

Probably something scary

Thank you so much for your time. It was a real pleasure to talk to you! If this interview had been a video clip, what music would you have used to accompany the end credits? Is music important in your opinion? "I usually ask this question."

I would have loved it to be something by Kraftwerk as a homage to the late Florian Schneider. But, as I’m listening to a lot of new east-London jazz at the moment, I would like it to be Village of the Sun (feat. Binker and Moses). I hope you can hear the relevance.

By Niccolò Tabanelli

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