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John Olsen, Killer Slugs, 2007. Pigment on paper John Olsen, Killer Slugs, 2007. Pigment on paper

Feb 14 - May 17, 2020 John Olsen
1938-2019

In the autumn of 2019, Denmark lost one of its most prominent visual artists. However, John Olsen left behind an impressive and very extensive body of work, a considerable portion of which is at Holstebro Kunstmuseum. The exhibition John Olsen 1938-2019 aims to provide a worthy impression of his artistic oeuvre. 
 
Temples of growth and decaying nature 
John Olsen’s works take their point of departure in the natural surroundings among which he lived and worked, and from which he drew his inspiration, motifs and materials. In close-up studies of mountains of waste, Icelandic rock walls and Faroese mountains, he seizes upon modest details which are transformed into condensed structures with a beauty that is entirely their own. In their choice of perspective, they resemble nature itself; as something seen and experienced. 
 
Constructive and destructive
Something similar is expressed in John Olsen’s slates and photographic reliefs, in which living and dead birds are reproduced with great simplicity and intimate precision. In a number of photo collages from the 1980s, clippings, photographs and drawings are affixed by pins to boards and placed under glass in a frame. Here, it is the actual selection and framing that is endowed with greatest significance. The logic of the picture boards is associative and borne by memory. At the same time, they illustrate the creative process by which visual impressions are processed in the creation of new art. 

Cosmic beauty in the cryptic grip of growth
Colour, form and materiality are closely interlinked in John Olsen’s artistic practice, which continues to draw our attention to the beauty of decay. This is also evident in the large paper works with the imprints of the entrails of slaughtered animals, or the wandering tracks of slugs through coal and pigment. The principle of chance is prevalent in works like these, where nature participates on an equal footing with the artist. 
 
“Life wills”
In John Olsen’s unsentimental and powerful depictions of natural growth and decay, we gain a greater understanding of death as a prerequisite for the continuation of life; of joy and pain, loss and pleasure. For “life wills”, as he so often said. In a time when man-made natural and environmental disasters are very much on the agenda, John Olsen’s art seems more relevant than ever before. 
 
About the exhibition
The exhibition John Olsen 1938-2019 consists entirely of works from the collection of Holstebro Kunstmuseum. The selection dates back to 1965, when the artist’s earlier, naturalistic 
expression of the late 1950s gradually faded away. On the other hand, in his deep investigations into the characteristics of materiality, the artist has achieved a different type of objectivity that appears even closer to reality than traditional representations of nature. 
 
Brief biography
John Olsen (1938-2019) originally trained as a craftwork painter, but later graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In 1967 he left Copenhagen and eventually settled at Sundsgården near Ringe, on South Funen. He was an enthusiastic hunter, kept sheep and in general cultivated the experience of nature with great intensity. In the mid-1960s John Olsen visited the Faroe Islands for the first time, and was to return many times to the North Atlantic in the following years. 
 
His artistic production was extensive and varied, but his real breakthrough did not come until the 1980s. In 1995, he was chosen to be Denmark’s representative at the Venice Biennale, where he presented, amongst other things, the large sculpture Resonans. A bronze version of the work is now located in the museum’s sculpture garden. 
 
In the following years, the large installation Undrekammer (Chamber of Wonders) was presented at Holstebro Kunstmuseum, where it is now on permanent display on the museum’s lower floor. At Holstebro Town Hall there are also a number of the artist’s painted tiles. In addition, a number of his large sculptural works may be found around Denmark, and the artist is also richly represented in the country’s art museums. In 1985 John Olsen was awarded the Eckersberg Medal, and in 1995 the Thorvaldsen Medal – the highest honour a Danish artist can receive.
 
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