On the Surface

On the surface, life is normal here. We are still our same American family of five. Here in this different place. Here in Denmark. On the surface, it looks nice. It seems that we can see things and do things that we haven’t seen or done before and share them here with you. On the surface, it looks like sunshine and roses. Sometimes it is. Sometimes below the surface, we’re just sleepwalking. Moving through the motions of a day from sun up to sun down whilst the world works and does and becomes. Sometimes I feel like I have to scratch off the surface to reveal the winning code, the lottery winner. Maybe we didn’t buy the ticket today though. What did we do? I sometimes wonder at the end of the day. But you can’t win if you don’t buy the ticket.

Yesterday – I bought the ticket. And I definitely won. My personal lottery that is. Those who know me know that art, especially public art, is something very important to me. Public art in the form of outdoor sculpture galleries, murals, architecture, street art and even well executed colorful graffiti. The earth without ART is just… eh. Yesterday, I attended the closing afternoon of Danish photographer Søren Solkær‘s excellent exhibition SurfaceAn enormous, in scale and presentation, portrait series pointed at street artists all over the world and in every iteration – from street “taggers” to muralists to installation artists to graffiti kings. Yesterday Søren himself led a public tour through the Oksnehallen culture center‘s display of his works. Hearing how and where and why and who from the artist himself made the images come to life and engendered a respect for the work required to undertake such a project.

“Street artists are way more rock-n-roll than musicians,” Søren tells the large crowd of at least 100 people. Listening to his colorful stories of tracking down artists that laid the visual iconography of his 80’s breakdancing youth illustrated the kernals that would germinate into this amazing presentation. Søren’s own personal evolution in how to portray the sometimes mysterious, potentially dangerous, often drunk or drugged and sometimes unwilling portrait participants was interesting and easily apparent. It is clear in looking at the early images in this series that his initial idea to strictly document street artists in front of their piece would not work. Many whom work illegally, needed a covertness to their image. How Søren respected their requests and balanced it with his own creativity is what shines here. Masks, unique lighting, use of shadows, shooting through an artist’s own stencils, inserting artist in miniature, compositing images – just several of the ways that the photographer was able to express his own creativity to represent these very creative individuals. Søren’s final imagery becomes more than just a documentation of the street art and artist. The final image a work of art in its own right.

My favorite images exhibit exactly this – a masterful play between the artist and photographer. Using the street artist’s own work as inspiration for the portrait. I loved the long shadows and birds eye perspective in the portrait of Norwegian artist STRØK (also known as Anders Gjennestad). Using Ander’s own convention of photographing from above to create his stencils, Søren distorts and flattens the portrait of the apparently exceptionally tall Norwegian artist.

Norwegian artist STRØK - Anders Gjennestad portrait by Søren Solkær
Norwegian artist STRØK – Anders Gjennestad portrait by Søren Solkær

Much like Portland, Oregon where I hail “from” – Copenhagen is a veritable smorgasbord for street art. I hadn’t realized just how much I had been accumulating in my own photo roll until scrolling back after yesterday’s inspiration. I have obviously been drawn to the colorful adornment – both formal and informal that decorates the Danish capital. One of the first murals that I captured early upon relocating, late last November, was coincidentally Søren’s first image for his portrait collection.

Taken even before he had solidified his own vision for the breadth and scope that his project SURFACE would become. When I took my photo, I did not know who the specific artist was or any of the surrounding controversy around the mural. I just liked the color and bold graphics against the dark and dank nearing winter day. Søren explained that he used specific lighting to capture Fairey intended to evoke the artist’s famous Obama Hope graphic. I loved hearing about the piece that to me is a visual delineation of my entry into Denmark.

Søren Solkær shares his work for SURFACE at Oksnehallen, Copenhagen
Søren Solkær shares his work for SURFACE at Oksnehallen, Copenhagen
Søren Solkær sharing the story behind his cover art for book Surface
Søren Solkær sharing the story behind his cover art for book Surface

Having access to an artist who freely relays such personal motivation and image creation is a rare and special opportunity. What we each bring to the viewing of art – our backgrounds, history, personalities, education – makes the art touch and impact in various ways. What speaks to you may be different than what speaks to me. I loved Søren’s story behind his portrait of infamous Copenhagen train tagger – Sabe. He tells us that within the world of street artists, Copenhagen has earned a certain credibility and respect for their train tagging. Known as a “throw-up,” these tags are required to be quick, efficient and easily recognizable and administered before the train rolls away. Søren had established a portrait meeting with the elusive Danish street artist and shared with us his anticipation that the exchange would require some illicit behavior. But contrary to past experiences photographing under the cloak of darkness, kilometers into dank tunnels, past security fences or atop abandoned buildings to evade notice – Sabe suggested they meet at the central train station in the middle of Copenhagen. Two beers and some discourse later, Søren feared that the street artist had forgotten the arrangement, not knowing exactly how he was going to legally get a portrait of the artist with his work in such a public place. Suddenly an S-tog train (not unlike the kind we use almost daily) rolls into København H adorned with Sabe’s tag. He had been out the previous evening in anticipation of his portrait. Quickly Søren was able to secure the following successful image.

What the viewer misses in the seeming calm of the main train station portrayed here, is that Søren had to work around growing masses of boisterous football fans in for the F.C. København versus Brøndby derby match. My husband and son were at THAT match and witnessed first hand the spirited and venomous displays between the two rivals. Flares, beers, bottles thrown onto the field, match stopped for too much smoke, yelling and the like was a scene that will be permanently embedded for them. To know that those same fans were the backdrop for Søren’s smooth capture is impressive and remarkable. What you see on the surface, not necessarily reflective of reality.

On the surface of my life here, I will continue to accumulate the color that speaks to me. I will try to scratch a bit off for the children. I will continue to try to inspire. We’ll see how it works. At least one of our buckets was filled yesterday. Balancing those buckets easier said than done. More for another post perhaps.

See more of Søren Solkær’s work here. If you are lucky enough to be in a city where you can see the exhibit or meet him in person – go do it. Vancouver, Canada – I’m talking to you! Interested in more local color here in Copenhagen – scroll through and see what has caught my eye. Have I missed one of your favorite murals? Please share – I want to check it out! Cheers from Denmark – Erin

5 thoughts on “On the Surface

  1. Thanks for sharing not only this art but also your passion for this event. You’re in another place I’d love to see — Copenhagen. And I think you’re right — there are some similarities to Portland, OR. Thanks for following Oh, the Places We See. Best wishes for getting around the world even more and posting for us to enjoy!

  2. Fantastic post! I have never quite had the eye to appreciate all art, but your passion and excitement just yell from the computer screen! I’m glad that you were able to enjoy such a special event.

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