Credible Lies

The exhibition Credible Lies [Troværdige løgne] stands as a testimony to Ivan Andersen’s desire to throw himself into new experiments and rethink painting’s potential to create space and at the same time shake the viewer’s preconceived notions of spatial constructions. It has always been Andersen’s hallmark to work in the tension between figuration and abstraction, and the exhibition’s compositions also include the artist’s peculiar motifs, blending monochrome colour surfaces with office buildings and other recognisable elements from the cityscape.

In any case, Ivan Andersen’s third solo exhibition at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard marks a new direction for his works. Ivan Andersen has tried to weed out his motifs, and a connoisseur of his previous production will immediately discover that the new works point in another direction. The works differ significantly from the wildly growing motifs we have previously seen from Andersen’s hand. The Credible Lies exhibition consists of a series of paintings, each measuring 60 x 80 cm, considerably smaller than in his earlier formats. The motifs were found on the route between the artist’s studio and his home, during his residency on Mallorca in winter or during one of his customary ‘surfing-tours’ online. The motifs are not imposing, but show anonymous sides of the big city, such as stairwells, anonymous residential complexes and backyards.

Ivan Andersen has always had an ambivalent relationship with realistic representation and the expectations it creates in viewers. It is therefore extremely difficult to get an overview of his motifs at first viewing as his pictorial space is too complicated and complex. Another characteristic of Andersen’s paintings is the striking absence of human figures. One does not find people among Andersen’s motifs, since a human figure would probably draw out full attention immediately and create an intimate and recognisable relationship between the work and the viewer.

Andersen’s images explore the frontier between the abstract and the figurative, between painting as a desire-borne, freely fabulising medium and painting as representation rooted in the recognisable world. The essence of the new works in Credible Lies thus remains the same as in Andersen’s earlier works.

In the works in the exhibition, one feels the photographic origin in the paintings’ composition, both in their dimensions – which allegedly mimic the most frequent dimensions of pictures online – as well as in their motifs. We recognise that the painted motifs could also appear in photographs, but the relationship with the outside world is not straightforward. What we find at first glance to be comfortably familiar, upon closer inspection becomes distorted, like a kind of white noise, blurring clear references to an outside world. Ivan Andersen’s works are indeed anchored in figuration – thus there is always a layer of familiarity, which we can discern and try to dig into – but the recognisable connection to a landscape or an object is also cut off. It is neither immediate recognition nor a 1:1 relationship between motif and model that is of interest to Andersen. His relationship to figuration is perhaps best described in this exhibition’s title: Credible Lies. He explains his choice of title by saying that a lie works best if it contains a grain of truth.

Ivan Andersen uses figuration in the same way in this exhibition: to help build and support the safe ground that we viewers slowly feel disappearing beneath us. The figurative becomes a necessary tool in Andersen’s images – one that creates an understanding of the content that clarifies figuration’s blind spots. In other words, the figuration in which we normally have such blind faith is itself a construction. One of the works in the exhibition (Photo 16) hangs obliquely and is the only painting deviating from the standard size of the others. In its centre there is a picture of the same size as the other works in the exhibition. This little ironic intervention makes the work into a commentary on the endless art-historical discussions about the painting’s relationship to the reality outside of the frame.

Ivan Andersen’s works demonstrate that figurative painting is a construct and that the painter actively makes inclusions and omissions in his works via his frequent choice of leaving parts of the canvas unpainted, so that either completely unprimed areas of the canvas are visible or areas in primed canvases are allowed to stand nakedly forth. The sudden shift in rhythm from something very painterly to bare areas of canvas creates an interesting contrast to our notion of pictorial culture and our eternal quest to create order in the many images we encounter daily. A bit of unprimed canvas standing alone, or a scrap from a previous work set on top of the figural layer as a collage element, short-circuit our expectations about painting, and we are forced to relate to the figural elements knowing well that we should not necessarily be looking for a meaning.

The figural layers in Andersen’s paintings in the exhibition are peeled away  by being manipulated and distorted, so that the figural referent is emptied of significance and appears abstract. A particularly interesting example of this is the abstract modernistic sculpture that serves as the subject of Photo 15. It is a sculpture like so many others in our cityscapes, placed there without consideration of its relationship to its location. Andersen plays on the sculpture’s ‘non-meaning’, creating a double projection by letting it serve as a figural layer in his piece. It is this gradual procedural resolution of figuration that results in the pictorial space appearing fragmented to such an extent that it is up to the individual viewer to find significance in Andersen’s spatial reorganisation, which is so radical that it opposes the otherwise ordinary logic of a pictorial space constitution.

The paintings in the exhibition create an indistinct space where abstract form experiments with monochrome surfaces floating around among recognisable motifs with clear references. These contrasting elements mix further with sculptural elements put on the canvas in the form of both canvas scraps fitted as collage pieces and uneven plaster patches, which in a kind of trompe-l’œil effect project the figuration into a three-dimensional element.

In one of the show’s works we see, for example, a diving board at a swimming pool (Photo 11). The picture is limited to a dark melancholic palette and has a cinematic character. In the work we can observe how the brush strokes have changed character compared to Andersen’s earlier works. In the past, his paintings have been characterised by large brush strokes, as the artist by creating as smooth a surface as possible sought to hide his tracks. In Photo 11, however, we can see that the artist has worked with a much smaller brush than usual. Thus the brush strokes clearly stand out, and the painting takes on another character, clarifying that the motif is painted. The underlying creative process is revealed.

A silence and thoughtfulness has replaced the hallucinatory spaces in which the sight of an almost breathless centrifugation was tossed around among the many complex spatialities that have been standard fixtures in Andersen’s paintings. In them we could see a host of motifs – recognisable from our everyday lives – penetrated by a number of spatial constructions.

Ivan Andersen has often worked at creating an alternative ordering principle in the otherwise violent pictorial reality in which we all find ourselves. But instead of disguising or concealing the massive number of images we are constantly bombarded with, he lets it all unfold before our eyes by placing the viewer in the eye of the hurricane. The new works in credilbe Lies create a different game with the viewer’s vision. The compositions are calmer, and we could be led to believe that Andersen’s well-known playfulness has disappeared. Fortunately, however, this has not happened. He continues working with motives that blast our common understanding of space, which has indeed been shifted and altered, and with the obvious brush strokes he also underscores the transition from photography to painting, from a snapshot of reality to a slow, painterly working over of the surrounding reality.

Ivan Andersen makes use of a number of original models. Whether it is crumpled pieces of paper or a photo from his studio, where the work’s point of departure is a photograph of a former painting, the work will be a meta-representation of the painting’s relationship to reality, while Andersen sets up a number of difficultly penetrable spaces.

In the production of works for the exhibition, Andersen emphasised being able to pursue a sudden impulse. Thus, the new works are distinguished from the old, where the working method was far slower. And while it was previously a matter of constantly putting new spaciality into the picture, one feels that in the new works it has been more a process of cutting elements away.

The exhibition provides a unique insight into a working process where the artist at the start does not know what the finally completed work will be, and where the artistic process – which for Andersen has often been to weed out his motifs in order to find new ones – has become important in itself.

In Credible Lies we encounter different, simpler, more downplayed compositions. On the surface, all seems tranquil, but upon closer inspection the images seem to grate. Something is wrong. We cannot, for example, quite get the facade reflection to match the classic residential housing (Photo 10) or get a certain gaze direction in an urban view zoomed in on the city’s gutter (Photo 6) – a typical Andersen motif, presenting formal issues, in which the colour fields and geometric shapes at the same time hold the picture together and seem to dissolve it. The painting challenges the viewer’s conception of spatial construction and thus our way recognising the immediate reality as well.

Ivan Andersen’s new paintings point toward a new motif-field, but not toward a new basic substance. The brush strokes may be clearer, and the paintings’ multiplying spaces may have become fewer, but Ivan Andersen’s works are still about finding an idiom that is not frozen in traditional dogmas, but instead opens itself up, so that the objects and places that appear on a painting’s surface are set free to be able to enter into new relationships.