Nine kindergarten aged children share their lunch on the trunk of a fallen oak tree, floating through the middle of a painted composition. Their feet dangle in the air, faces focused on conversation and food. Judging from their clothes, the red, yellow and pale green nuances of the delicately gestural foliage on the trees surrounding them, the crisp blue sky, and the tree trunks’ long, early shadows, it is a bright autumn day with a low sun. To be quite specific, the silhouette and positioning of a castle in the background reveals the location of the lunch to be Dyrehaven, a large forest park and home to the Queen’s hunting castle, The Erimitage Hunting Lodge, a little north of the Danish capital Copenhagen.
This scenery unfolds in the painting Lunch in the Park, one of 11 new paintings in HuskMitNavn’s solo exhibition Signs of Life. While the scenery is local, there is something universal about the situation; take away the fauna and architecture, and this group of kids could be engaged in conversation and lunch many places around the planet. Replace the kids with adults and it becomes apparent that this composition is an elegant paraphrase of the famous 1932 photograph, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, depicting New York construction workers lunching on a cross beam in the sky, 260 meters above the city.
The painting sets the context and humanist tone for Signs of Life. Every work explores interhuman relations, paradoxically in a time where a pandemic is keeping us physically apart but uniting us in spirit. Another painting, Summer Nights revolves around a suburban house party. All the guests are dressed in costumes, a sailor and a female leopard dance under the coloured lights of a party lit tree, a nurse kisses Tupac, a lonely, intoxicated Storm Trooper gazes at the deep, blue, starlit universe.
In The Greenfield a group of very enthusiastic soccer moms and dads and a coach, direct and cheer a game from the side line, but the protagonist, a single young player, oblivious to drama surrounding him, has stopped to examine a flower on the playing field with loving curiosity. A contemporary version of Disney’s Ferdinand The Bull and an elegant opening to discussions of gender expectations, parents’ ambitions and children’s needs.
In the large painting A Family a family of four are on a rainy, forest hike. Three of the expedition members are dressed for the occasion, in warm and waterproof clothing, while the last family member, the sullen teenager, is in Converse–no socks, you ancient idiot–shorts and a hoodie. Mom’s hand is stretched out in hopeful anticipation, but the teenager’s hand is firmly in pocket. Rituals of separation. A fine meditation on the coming of age.
The new works intriguingly negotiate the immediate past and the, hopefully not so distant, future. The motifs currently appear like a memory from another epoch, or an idealized, in the harsh light of today almost naïve, projection of the future. When they were painted, they were now. They remind us of the importance of community and society. In a time when we talk about touch deprivation, we certainly feel a longing for a free community without restricting numbers. Can you long for a crowded morning commute? I didn’t think so two months ago. Busy sidewalks? Bustling bike paths? Full concerts and football stadiums? Brimming house parties? Populous public spaces? Human activity–Signs of Life–absolutely. The dream is not a solitary corona bunker on the coast of New Zealand, but solidarity.
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