A diary of life with Gordon
From 1981 till his death in 2011, Gordon´s wife, Ulla, from time to time kept a diary of life with him. The following is a collection of extracts from the diary.
By Ulla Fazakerley
Photo: Selfportrait from the collection of Lesley and Knud Davidsen.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had a visit from a young German girl who paints and is interested in Jorn and the Group Spur and would like to hear Gordon talk about them. Gordon was in the mood, he was happy to see a young, interested woman, it broke the monotony of the Sunday. It was good to hear him talk about the time with Spur, Kunzelman, Zimmer, Sturm. Jorn opened many doors to the Group.
Most exciting of all was to hear about Jorn’s big sculpture ceramic for Aarhus Gymnasium, the most important work that was made in this period, because it gives the essence of everything that was made in art during the years when one was experimenting with everything. And that makes Jorn the most important European artist of this period. What he uses there has the same effect as his early woodcuts – the relief-effect that is important. “What is the meaning of the different figures? asked Andrea. Gordon used to get annoyed when one asks that sort of thing. “Does one always have to find a meaning?” “Yes, because I believe that there is one!”. Ask Ansgar Elde (who helped Asger with the work) said Gordon and continued: “I have always been speechless whenever I have seen this work – it is so breathless – that I have never asked about it. Its magic is overwhelming. One need not say or hear anything when one sees it. I have said this many times, the last time was in London, when Jorn exhibited there, that it is the most important work of its time, the highpoint of art in this period, but nobody listens to me. They just shake their heads. What it shows: I don’t know, but I imagine that it is Jorn’s meeting with the southern European world, it opens the beautiful world he is expressing, in this everything is gathered, that he is capable of. It describes vertically the bottom of the Mediterranean with sandstone, jelly fish, the animal and plant inhabitants in the sea – the colours are from the sea – the orange oil colour is painted on after the firing, because he could not get this colour burnt into clay. He got 100.000 kroner for it from the Danish state, and it cost 200.000 kroner to produce, but it is a masterpiece, and it is so sad that others cannot see this.
Today we were out to see the exhibition of Manet at Ordrupgaard. A painting of a peach was so alive it almost breathed of life – we saw his mistakes – lack of perspective and his love of materials – laces, vases, water, fruits – the transparence he loved and was good at – the velvet softness he gets with the brush – beautiful.
I thought: Gordon has the same quality in his paintings, but goes much further than Manet. “You can see in my painting, that I have been to pick out his tricks,” he said afterwards in the canteen. The weather was fantastic clear and beautiful, a real Indian summer. We have had a visit by Roberto Ohrt, who writes for the art magazine Art und Zeit and a Swiss magazine. He should write about Per Kirkeby. In the middle of it all Gordon mentioned that the scientist Herbert Frölich once told him about trees, and that he uses three-dimensional trees when he thinks about his theories, and he had asked Gordon about trees in Scandinavia. And Gordon told him about the old oak forests, and how in the old days the king had inherited an oak forest from his father. It was because Per Kirkeby had begun to talk about trees, and Gordon said, that perhaps he had got it from Troels Andersen, because Gordon had told Troels about the importance of trees in Frölich’s opinion. Trees are in the news now because of the extinction of the rain-forest. There is so much about trees now, that it is a pity Gordon had not written about it in his booklet.
We sat last night on a bench in Langelinie harbour and talked about painting in the 20 century, about Picasso and Braque, who were heroic, because they defined and painted the space in a new way, where since the Renaissance perspective had been the way to treat the space. Then the painting was flat. Picasso and Braque split up the space in squares and made structure in the painting on top of the structure, and thereby made a revolution in the painting in the beginning of the century. There was a fruitfulness. The younger painters to day wished to be famous and celebrated as great artists and therefore they are not heroic like Picasso and Braque were.
In February we were in London and saw El Greco’s paintings, while last year we saw Vélazquez in The National Gallery. “Vélazquez excludes himself from his paintings. That is his greatness. With El Greco all is El Greco, and nothing repeats itself. El Greco’s prophetic insight is the heart of his greatness”.Gordon continued:” His colours express a sure and deep eloquence, sometimes transparent like a knife, the knife of the soul that cuts everything away from the figures and frees them from superfluous details!”
The problem was that the place was not well chosen to show his pictures, after Gordons opinion. “The religious paintings have to be seen in Toledo and nowhere else” he said.
“The secret behind the woman’s face in Botticelli’s picture, the bride in the symbol-flowered dress, there is a white lily hidden somewhere in the pattern, a little to the right in the picture, is that she has her mouth a little bit open, so that one sees that she is breathing. It is as if the canvas is breathing. It was one of the first things I learned from George Mayer-Martin as a student”.
Gordon is continuing with the paintings about the thoughts and imaginations of Edith Södergran. He has just painted one over and begun again, a picture in red tones, very exciting, something different, Gordon in a completely new way. He is carried away by painting, cannot have to do with any other things, even though he has been called to the hospital to get a new hearing aid. In between finding the old things, it also gives him different impulses. He tells about the old days and we have a lot of fun. Time goes by well, everything is growing bigger and spreading out and at the same time everything superfluous is cut away, we don’t have so much time anymore, we cannot spill it on small things. Stick to trifles.
Suddenly Gordon got a pain in the back and could not move. I used the opportunity to get him down to the physiotherapist Dorte, who has helped me. She helped Gordon and now he feels fresh and good again, when he comes back from her treatment. We had to postpone the hearing test until the 9/11, the date the world went out of order.
“It is very difficult to get close to Edith Södergran. I have tried again and again in many different ways, they have become sketch paintings. Not until now do I think I have reached her in the painting with many red colours and some green round circle-like figures that shows growth. It is a strong picture.
Gordon has just finished nr. 42 of the Edith Södergran paintings. They are all different, because he wants to make them like leaves in a book. Every single one. This is the last poem: “I long for a country that is not”. On the left side there is a hand stretching out for something or to catch everything in one single grasp to the left and bigger blue figures downwards, drifting outwards in thin lines. It came after the holiday in Sweden, where he drew some of these floating figures forward and in this way brought something new into the paintings.
Lately we talked about what different people mean about spiritual ideas in existence. Gordon said that it was not complicated. “The spiritual value in existence is life itself, it has everything one can think of: to feel, dream, paint. What more do one want?”
No, that is right. What more should one do? When David asked next time, “What is the meaning of life?” I answered him that, “It is LIFE. You do not need more”
Gordon is now at nr. 43 after he has painted the painting nr. 42 on the poem: “I long for a country that is not”.
Gordon has now finished the Midsummer series – he sent it to Peter Shield, who was surprised and intrigued and said: “It is a new abstraction, if the concept of time is abstract, and more to be thought about as well as sensorially experienced, if one can call time abstract and a new feeling of sensibility”.
We have just heard that after the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary there will be no more. Now it only happens on the internet.”Idiocy”, said Gordon. “A sandstorm from the sun that has always come at repeated intervals will destroy electricity and technology, everything, and then we are back in the Stone Age. What will modern man do? The welfare state is the forerunner for that, it admits only the nice well brought up people and not all the others that are outcasts”.
After our primitive back-to-nature holiday in Sweden, where Gordon felt strong enough to walk up on the hill next to our house, we came back with renewed power. Up there all the bushes and plants growing wild have been removed, so we experienced the crooked old trees. We photographed a lot of pictures that could inspire Gordon to paint.
Back in town he immediately started to repaint old paintings that according to his own opinion were not good enough. That he had begun already before the holiday with the Midsummer paintings but he continued. Now he is painting one of the forest – and into the forest. It was a black structure with yellow front edges. He placed a violet over the yellow, so they became red. And then he painted green, blue, grey and white on the black. What will come out of it, he does not know .
Gordon finished with no. 43. Arrival at Hades, which took many considerations and ended up being in three levels to give a strong three dimensional effect. He thought much, and then he painted the lower mountain like points in a horizontal line through the painting in powerful black with white glints, but he was not satisfied.
Suddenly the painting was painted over. Gordon did not like it. He painted over it, first with white, then yellow. It developed into different darker and lighter nuances, an inkling even darker giant sun stepped slowly forward by itself. In the end it was, as Gordon said, the last midsummer day when Edith Södergran died.
Gordon began another painting like this in yellow, brown colours. He wants to make the Dance of Death and has started with a dancing figure taken out of a book of Turkish paintings from the 14th century by Muhammad Siyan Qalam. Dramatic, all black strokes in a row the middle – and showed me the poem of Edith Södergran where she writes about the row of black pillows. Then the painting was finished. Next day he painted it all over, he was not satisfied with it.
“Jorn threw out everything he did not like. About many things he was correct. The history about the Nordic tribes. Each artist follows his mother tongue, and he tried to follow his mother tongue, but it led to other places. When one looks at the things that have influenced oneself it is Cézanne and Turner, even if I don’t like to say Turner, because I have always seen him in frames. When we saw the three paintings at the BritishMuseum without frames, I was absolutely surprised. I saw his sense of the incomplete.
“Cézanne – his opponent is Veronese. Like when I walk in The National Gallery in London, I feel a language that is so unrealistic. It is as if that tongue does not belong to oneself .Where it speaks to me by Cézanne is in the crypto-morphology – the hidden forms in the paintings. I have never stopped to read the structural elements in his pictures. The hidden language becomes an epoch in Picasso’s hands in Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon. Here everything is turned upside down. Only when the painting has reached to the point, through all the different difficulties I have been through with it, where it can paint itself, when it begins to be a painting that rejects you, then you can be free.”
“Of course I observe the world, and I take direction from Spinoza. I wish that my inner voice was as direct as his. For me Spinoza is the Prince of Heresy – against Orthodoxy. Perhaps because I live such an isolated life that people find bleak and austere. I don’t communicate much with the external world. All the things we ascribe to God are only what we see in nature. If I can let nature consume me, and I can say something about that. Of course it includes many other factors, and may I say the forbidden word in all that goes on, it is civilisation. I cannot imagine nothingness, I felt I was at peace and, because I was empty, I realise it is just a reflection. I like to express myself, articulate my mind”.