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Per Adolfsen at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel

Per Adolfsen is a Danish artist who regularly makes forays into the countryside with only a pencil and paper to retrieve images from the landscape in highly lyric ways. His color drawings are extraordinarily precise if not very accurate in color, resulting in a hallucinatory image that is as beautiful as it is unusual. Working within a small format, Adolfsen has made a group of drawings that celebrate nature on the scale of chamber music, in which poetry combines with a formal accuracy based on the precise report of the land. The trees and meadows and rocks, with bodies of water and snowy heights, all combine to create a world of unusual, and also innocent, beauty. This is an unusual time for an innocent view of nature, stuck as we are in the morass of decades, if not centuries, of the abuse of the natural world. Adolfsen, who rejects all technology in his practice, working with paper and pencil alone, might be accused of being old-fashioned. But perhaps the greater truth is that the deliberate constraints that he places on materials return him to a past when a romantic view of nature had not been tarnished by exploitation. 

But it must be said, too, that Adolfsen is neither a sentimentalist nor a scholar in his treatment of what he sees. His manner of working is visionary and very contemporary--his audience comes upon points of view that are highly specific, particular to a place rather than visually generalized. Such a specificity gives Adolfson his command of an idiom that maintains contemporaneity even as his genre links him to outdoor studies from the 19th century. The tension of the old and the new, in conjunction with its joining, combines to result in an art resolutely independent of easy influence. The drawings, small as they are, are rendered impartially, with an eye for the detail. In this way, he avoids the emotionalism or apocalyptic character that often characterizes our very late reading of nature’s attractions. It doesn’t really matter whether his intentions are conscious; the newness of his vision exists simply because he is working in the present moment. Each generation pursues a point of view that is conducive to the spirit of the time, and Adolfsen is no different, being taken with a visionary understanding of the exterior world, at a time when both an ecstatic eye and a hand attracted to measure, and restraint are needed.

The drawings are both various and specific. In “By the Canal “(2020), the rocks, piled in a heap, are tan, light gray; there is even one that is a pale mauve. Above the small, rounded stones is a bit of tall green grass and two posts, along with two trees possessing heavy green foliage, arching upward into a nondescript gray sky. The particularities of the drawing make it thoroughly believable despite the unusual colors used for the stones. It is a lyric, but also highly realistic vision of an outdoor scene. “Low Tide” (2020) encompasses an extended view of sand, with a presentation of scattered rocks, some quite small and some bigger, toward the foreground of the drawing. Above the long expanse of the dun and gray shore, revealed by the low tide, is a thin strip of rippled, dark blue ocean, with something that looks like a white cloud rising out of the water. Like the notable drawing “By the Canal”, “Low Tide” builds its promise on its visual truth to its subject. We recognize what we see at once, as an encapsulation of a scene that actually exists. Indeed, with the exception of Adolfsen’s unusual color schemes, the strength of his art is its fidelity to nature. The expressionism occurs in the hues alone; otherwise, a realist view of the external world dominates the art.

“The Big Tree in the Kindergarten” (2020) consists of a single majestic tree with dark dense foliage rising from an expanse of grass. There are hints of gray blue in the brushy expressed masses meant to convey groups of leaves; the lower part of the work is fronted by a tan expanse of sand, while in the background, we can see parts of buildings on the far left and upper right. A pale blue sky is found above, with rounded cumulus clouds framing the tree’s glorious size. It is hard to find so poetic a treatment of nature--it is as if we were living in the 19th century, when our systematic despoilation of the natural world had not yet occurred. The last image to be mentioned, “Misty Morning by the Stream” (2020), is an entirely gray tone drawing in which water takes up the lower half of the composition, followed in the middle by a strip of vegetation and tallish trees. The sky above is composed of two shades of gray. It is a beautiful, romantic work that is dictated by material accuracy and emotional restraint. Although the monochromatic “Misty Morning by the Stream” is an unusual piece for Adolfsen, it places well within his body of work in its exactitude and enduring presence, completely free of figures.

The achievement of Adolfsen lies in the particularity of his vision, realized with the simplest of materials. His color, not accurate in light of what we see, is inspired if also eccentric in regard to a true realism of report. Yet the idiosyncrasy of his hues serves to accentuate the off kilter, but also true to life, realism of the work. We are living in a time of liberated expressionism in art, but Adolfsen’s understanding moves in a different direction. His expressionism occurs in his colors, but not in the overall scheme of his works. Instead, he stays close to nature, in which the forms of what he represents become vehicles of his genuine interest. These forms are accurate and real, adding to our general impression that they are meant to closely convey the reality of the countryside the artist depicts. As a result, Adolfsen moves out of the conventional and traditional to truly free and contemporary versions of nature. The works’ color is where the artist’s individuality lies, which, a bit strangely, heightens and supports the accuracy of his point of view. Accomplished art manages to be free and formally contained at the same time, and Adolfsen achieves the seeming contradiction quite well. His views of his native countryside, realized with a paucity of materials, look a great deal like inspired readings of the land.

-Jonathan Goodman, December 25, 2020

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