The Wild Colour
Erik Meistrup

Translation: Uffe Frode Hansen

The flaming kiss of dreams lives forever
 in the Festival of Light

Sofus Clausen, 1927


In the history of Art, the language of colours has often been subordinate to the drawn line; drawing has ruled. It is not until the Renaissance period, and beginning with Titian in Venice that we find the creation of motifs through the building of colour. Later, in the 19th century with Delacroix and then the Impressionists, came a further development with the grammar and linguistics of colour. And the closer we come to our own age - the Modernist Era - the greater becomes the demand for colour to achieve more than simply to reflect and portray the visible world.

The beginning of the 20th century witnessed an explosion in the importance of colour, becoming a force of its own in a new and decisive manner. Indeed, the requirement that colour be the primary tool an artist must, and should, use was so compelling that it erupted, so to speak, in three different locations at once; namely, Russia, Germany and France. This culminated in one great movement - Expressionism, where the emotional nature of the motif is conveyed by an exaggerated use of colour. A particular French group, the Fauvists-Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck - made use of pure "wild" colour, depicting landscapes or figures in wildly exaggerated lighting conditions, thus amplifying the emotional impact of colour in the observer's reading of the motif. As Matisse himself put it, "The dismemberment of colour means the dismemberment of form, resulting in a surface that leaps out at you" In other words, the sense of calm and balance striven for by earlier schools of art had now been shot to pieces; no more resting-places for the eye, nor permanent structure on which to build a visual sense of order. The paintings were now being built up around their own dissolution, but also around the freedom given the observer to piece together his/her own "picture", through the emotional impact of colour evoked by the viewing experience. Expressionism concerns itself with "surface"; with areas of colour, pieced together jig-saw fashion where the "line" either plays no part at all, or functions as a rhythmic movement across the canvas - a suggestion of form (motif, figure) perhaps, or an independent dance, imparting drama and depth.

Expressionism went on to become the Art Movement of the 20th century, whilst Fauvism's orgy of colour burned out quickly in the course of a few years. Yet it proved to be of vital significance for the futurist project, and the involvement of the married couple Robert (French) and Sonia (Ukranian) Delanauy in the creation of the "simultaneous painting". These are perhaps best exemplified 6y a number of Robert's works, particularly those from the 1920s, in which the Eiffel Tower is shown bending and twisting on the verge of collapse.

The German school of Expressionism was founded in Munich, with the collaboration of the Russian painters Kandinsky and Jawlensky on the one hand, and the Germans, Marck, Macke, Munter and Klee on the other, the latter having briefly formed the Der Blaue Reiter. Together they revolutionised painting, and along with Die Brucke from 1905 ( the same year that the Fauvists were exhibiting in Paris ) influenced the work of other artists such as Nolde, Rohls, Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff and others, the majority of whom had been working on the development of motif and in discovering "the wild colour" had found a vital source of inspiration. The interwar years witnessed the breakthrough of fully-blown abstract painting, with Jackson Pollock from U.S., and here at home Asger Jorn (in his post-CoBra period) - leading to Abstract Expressionism. Along with Pop-Art's commercial imagery, Abstract Expressionism has probably been the most powerful source of artistic renewal over the past 40 years, having also broken the mould of sculpture, with the advent of Installation.

The liberation struggle of colour may well be regarded as the artistic rebellion of the 20th century, but the victory won also brought a moral obligation on the part of the artist to mirror in his/her work the dynamics - be it good or bad - of social change.


The symphony of colour

In meeting the diversity of Jon Gislason s production, with works in all sizes and colours - in one end so intense they almost melt the canvas, and a simple expressive line or delicately balanced, almost poetic intimation of form at the other - one meets then that very concentration and synthesis of experimentation in colour that is so characteristic of the Expressionist era. A number of influences meet and melt together in Gislason's work, but should one point to one of Expressionism's founding fathers, it must be the Russian Alexej von Jawelsky (1864-1941). He arrived in Germany in 1896, and having met Kandinsky formed a partnership whose influence can hardly be overestimated. Jawelsky was constantly striving to create a synthesis between the visual impact of the physical environment with an inner mood or atmosphere; a synthesis also sought in the language of composition, in the balance of colour and form. Jawlensky's efforts to achieve this, however, remain rooted in the physicality of motif, thereby choosing not to follow Kandinsky into pure abstraction.

In conversation with Jon Gislason about his work, one finds the same basic intentions (as in Jawlensky) yet the gravitational influence of Abstract Expressionism can never be ignored. His investigative journeys to the borders of pure abstraction are no seldom occurrence, yet an inner guide compels him to maintain at least a hint of concrete reality. In this knife-edged balancing-act between the figurative and the abstract, Gislason aligns himself with the now 75-year-old Swedish painter Bengt Lindstrom, whose "universe" occupies the same borderline territory, where with Gislason one finds a constant process of Creation, with Nature and Man turning up in a stream of otherworldly pictures - in a never-ending symphony. Other influences suggest themselves here and there, from Munck to Penck and Polke, yet always as an inspirational source, absorbed and transformed into an independent expression.

To speak of the symphony of Colour conveys an instructive orchestral analogy; for as with the individual notes in music combining to form a whole, with each individual instrument a unique version of theme, melody, rhythm and timbre, so too the artist's ability to orchestrate colour. Each single colour is a note, each hue a tone, that may vary in myriad ways, forming gestalts where the various articulations of motif correspond to the instruments - expressing theme, intention, meaning and mood. Whilst Jon Gislason works with individual paintings, his undying sense of exploration - common to all his works, both large and small, draws his entire production into a greater sense of the Whole.


Art as a condition of being

Art cannot be learnt, asserts Walter Gropius in his manifesto Idee and Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses, in which he summarises the development of the Bauhaus concept and school. He also says that one can "develop one's technical skill and knowledge as a foundation for all creative work", yet it all depends on the artists talent, as to whether the individual result transcends pure craftsmanship. Jon Gislason knows his craft as a form of general knowledge always at hand when he sets to work; yet it is from the wellspring of inner chaos that his art issues forth, in works on paper, board or canvas. The "issue" being memories, images, feelings and sensory impressions he can neither contain nor suppress. At times one sees clear evidence of a mighty struggle taking place, in his efforts to bring the inner chaos under disciplined artistic control; this being of vital importance in creating pictures with a minimum level of accessibility and appeal. Elsewhere one sees the gush of pleasure-and joy-in his brushwork, telling beautiful tales of longing, intimacy, love and that compulsion to shower the world with an abundance of goods whose source one does not know.

There are also canvases filled with a simple background lighting and conveying the meditative mood of self-reflection, on which subjects appear as actors - placed as it were, to promote the process of reflection, and yet never being more than mere puppet-players. Jon Gislason's universe stretches from the deeply grave to the lightest lyrical mood, from the heights of drama and primitive eroticism to that step into freedom - into the great unknown.

One method used by Jon Gislason in approaching the instantly transformative power of the canvas, is to draw an outline of either a model or a part of himself. In a number of his paintings one finds fragments of human figures draped around other partial-motifs, or they stand alone as the remnants of an eroded landscape.

The human as figure, and being, is the core subject at the heart of Jon Gislason-s work, as he continues to fathom the mystery of human existence-the human being, after all, himself. What role, what position, what kind of life can he and we achieve? What kind of human and social inheritance is it that we carry with us? What is it about the joys and sorrows of loving? What is it with my identity, and as Jesus asked his disciple: Quo Vadis (Where are you going? ) All these questions fill Jon Gislason's life, not least his works, thus allowing so many others to find something to reflect upon.


The romantic expressionist

For the purposes of order and clarity in the history of art, one distinguishes between different schools of thought. Thus the irreconcilable relation - as fire to water or unbridled passion to quiet reflection - of Symbolism and Expressionism. Yet as time goes by, conditions evolve whereby the artist (as representative of a movement) acquires a more personal signature. The flaming manifestos and slogans brandished at the birth of a movement become less important. To be bold, one might say that Art mirrors religion in this regard, where the missionary zeal of a new faith gives way with time to secularisation, and the imperceptible infiltration of other elements in the "pure" teaching.

Likewise one could say that Jon Gislason's apparent use of pure Expressionism is at once more complex and so very simple. He combines forms of expression in order to reach his own particular artistic goals. When surveying Gislason's artistic universe, there's a strong presence of the romantic (in the art historical sense) amidst his free-flowing expressionism. A universe that is, borne by an intense longing for order and a more certain grasp of the chaotic present.

As the symbolists sought heroic characters and ravishing beauties in prehistoric tales, - combined, with a more or less digested mythology, including fairies, elves and ogres, adapted to a romantic vision of nationhood - so too with Gislason: Adopting a similar stance, he draws from Expressionism all that is useful for his own artistic journey, and combines it, symbiotically, with other deeper currents of psychological or cultural thinking. This of course is what keeps a movement alive, a vital check against it becoming a hollow, ornamental form of "parlour-art".

It is precisely through Gislason's own brand of romantic expressionism, rooted in local values and emotions (including the violent or dangerous) that he creates a uniquely personal style with ingrained "attitude", that his works achieve a high level of universal appeal. By "writing" his works with broad strokes in a pictorial language, they pass from the local to the global - thus installing them in the modern cultural debate on globalisation contra local identity. This one often sees discussed in terms of globalisation threatening local values ( e.g. the fast-food industry, McDonalds and Coca Cola etc. ). But there is also the other side of it, whereby a committed and talented artist, using the good old-fashioned tools of art to convey his "message", may transcend the "languagebarrier' of the spoken word and reach a world beyond his own.


The wlsaom of Art

The pictures reproduced in this book are representative of Jon Gislason's latest works, and show how he continues to expand his artistic vocabulary. This he achieves by three separate initiatives which fuse together forming a new gestalt on the canvas. He has extended his palette from using only pure colours to include the earth-pigments, allowing more room for the mixing of colour. His motifs encompass more facets of life, especially perhaps those vulnerability spots we all encounter in family life, or, as we grow old in coming to terms with our own mortality. At the same time this accumulation of experience spawns new frames of reference, determining how many facets of life are perceived. Wisdom is not welcomed in society, just as old age isn't welcomed or accepted - by the individual or society as a whole. One need but look at the world of advertising on the one hand, or the politicians on the other, chasing the "greyhaired" vote- in the belief that a new kind of culture was on its way, in which being old might once again mean something beyond pure economics. Experience and wisdom doesn't count for anything in the socio-political debate, for it isn't new.

But the artist has the opportunity of embedding his experience and wisdom in his works, such that they may create new meaning, both for himself, but also his public who follow their development. And there perhaps, lies one reason why the appreciation of Art is becoming of increasing importance in the lives of many-alongside the totems of prestige and investment - for in the dialogue with Art (and one another) they are able to process the silent wisdom which after all may be widely found in a variety of circles.

Jon Gislason is the kind of artist who as a person and creator of works continues to grow and develop, and whose voice continues to speak through his production in new and yet eternally old ways at one and the same time. To meet his work demands a dialetical exchange based on integrity, since the artist's commitment is always honest, and consequently one will always find room for doubt and new insight in that totality of work with which the artist seeks to embrace the wholeness of life.

Erik Meistrup



Meltdown.2000. Oil. 93x132 cm.

Meltdown.2000. Oil. 93x132 cm.


The profusion of colours
on stretched canvas
like wayside flowers in works of art
is any where else on earth
such sweet spendour
such vibrant power?

The Tree of Knowledge
like a setting sun;
while the serpent
setting rational obedience
unbridled passions
divides society from art
as man from woman



Begin to growing. 2001. Acryl. 180x230 cm.



Untitled. 2001. acrylic. 230x300 cm.

Untitled. 2001. acrylic. 230x300 cm.

The earth bleeds
with muted screams
of repressed desires
for the rest of nothingness
Freja's green fingers
bode new life
where nothingness teems
with fertility

Erik Meistrup