Ivan Andersen La Nuit américaine

Danish calm against violent Americana?

By John Quin

Ivan Anderson, Blue Screen, 2017, oil, acrylic, spraypaint and beeswax on canvas, 110 × 200 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen

Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen 21 April – 17 June

We’re greeted by a painting executed on plywood. It depicts a man standing in a doorway, wearing a Stetson. The darkness of the interior frames him as he stands in front of a desert landscape. His shadow encroaches on the room he has just exited; his right hand clutches his left elbow. It is John Wayne with that lonely pose at the end of The Searchers (1956). This work is called Saloon (all works but one 2017); the cowboy reappears in Blue Screen, this time astride a horse, alone beside a tree and below an enormous sky painted in swirling hues of blue. An empty Western landscape recalling the cinema of John Ford follows, Silver Lining, where a rocky outcrop dotted with vegetation rises from a central plain.

While these images are redolent of the Western frontier, Ivan Andersen’s show – La Nuit américaine – actually refers to François Truffaut’s 1973 film, also known as Day for Night. The French title is a technical term used in moviemaking that refers to filming during the daytime while using special stock and lighting techniques to create an illusion of nightfall. Such visual trickery fools our retinal rods and cones, and appeals to Andersen’s painterly talent – as with another pair of nocturnal views here, La Nuit américaine I and II. Here are two sides of a lonely motel. Aside from unadorned windows and a satellite dish, there are few other details; all is still. Each canvas is executed with much overpainting and scraping, giving the works a flat appearance as if they were thinly stitched rectangles of embroidery made from delicate thread. Andersen’s obfuscation of colour mimics the effect experienced by the eye at night: that vague dimmed view of gloom.

His mastery reaches a pitch of skill in Fuldkorn, a work on linen using oil, acrylic and spraypaint, where we see a tower block after dusk, its random pattern of rooms alive with a crepuscular luminosity. Each small window is a near-abstraction done in a flickering lambency of, variously, yellow, orange and violet. In contradistinction to the glimmer of these night scenes, Andersen also gives us the stark sharpness of bright light and its whiting-out effect on vision, as realised in an unpeopled Danish landscape, Ingenmandsland, with its green dappled hills, blanched clouds and pallid sky.

Collage is recalled in other works here, such as Fiskeben, where each element in this aquarium scene appears isolated – the fish relatively muted in colour in comparison with a solid central chunk of cocoa-brown wood and a blue and white effervescence of bubbles on the far right of the canvas. In another bucolic scene, Rollespil, we see the collaged effect again with mirroring swirls of more sky-blues reflected in the lake below, which is lined with streaked emerald bushes and bleached orange reeds. Andersen asks us to look carefully at each element – in his paintings and in reality – as if there are too many features crying out for our attention. We are implored to slow down and concentrate. There is something of Robert Walser’s hushed literary tone in these terse, noiseless works. As he wrote in his sketch ‘A Little Ramble’ (1914), ‘We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.’

Lastly there are the Topografi series of works (2016), sculptural hillocks made from paintings, folded canvases done in oil and acrylic and mounted on MDF and plywood constructions with oak table legs. Here a painting plays at being a small mountain. Andersen, this show suggests, has a cosy Danish favouritism for rural calm over the Hollywood of Ford and his violent Americana – more wistful visions than VistaVision. 

First published in the September 2017 issue of ArtReview