Reading a Poem, Reading a Tree
“When you make an image, in some sense it’s there before you arrive.”
Meet Danish artist Erik Steffensen who works in between photography and painting. “It means a lot to me to widen the space.” Read more …
“I am not a photographer. Clearly, I am not a painter. I see myself in the tradition of people who transform things.” Erik Steffensen here tells the story of how he discovered and got drawn into the world of art. “I am trying to make images that interest myself. Maybe it is a kind of childhood trauma that you don’t have enough space for. So you try for yourself to find a different space that allows you to breathe. That’s a way of dealing with images. It’s not a way of expressing yourself, but of being.”
“Photography”, Steffensen adds, was his first love. And photography is still the point of departure for most of his works today. After developing the images in the darkroom, he afterward paints upon them. “What is happening with a photograph, when you add color on it, is a small miracle, because everything becomes unique. When you work in a darkroom, every tiny bit of light that comes to the paper, defines it. Every little thing means something. It’s like with medication – you have to be very precise, otherwise, it will kill you. With painting, it’s the same thing. Detail is everything.”
“One of my purposes as an artist is to stand up for beauty. Because so many people they stand up for everything else – politics, whatever. Art of course is politics because you chose to do something different. But I still stand up for the kind of beauty that is connected to the inner world. It’s a bit like reading a poem. You can look at a tree and say: ‘Yes, it’s a tree’. You can also look at it and say: ‘Yes, it has a deeper meaning.”
Erik Steffensen is a Danish artist and writer born in 1961 in Valby, Copenhagen. He studied Philosophy and Art History at the University of Copenhagen and was educated at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen where he held a professorship 1998-2007. His main artistic domain is photography from analogue sources. His work is represented at Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, and National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (both Denmark). Site-specific works include Strindberg Lighthouse, VUC, Haderslev, and Center for Protein Research, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen (both Denmark). As a writer, Erik Steffensen published his autobiography ”Valbyengelsk” in 2003. His latest books include Per Kirkeby: At trække en streg, An Artist Biography, Gyldendal (2017) and Erik Steffensen: BASIC – Black and white photographs. Steffensen has also been the curator of major exhibitions with Per Kirkeby, Olivia Holm Møller, Poul Gernes, Asger Jorn and Helmut Federle.
Erik Steffensen was interviewed in his studio at Vemmetofte Kloster in Stevns, Denmark in June 2021.
Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edited by Rasmus Quistgaard
Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2021
Supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond
Becoming Paul McCarthy
On the influential and groundbreaking contemporary American artistSeries / 3 videos