Work in the spotlight

Asger Jorn
Verjum (Denmark) 1914 - Aarhus (Denmark) 1973

Disquieting Ecstasy  (1956)
Oil on canvas, 81 x 100
Bequest Alla Goldschmidt-Safieva, Brussels, 1990, inv. 11189

Asger Jorn Disquieting Ecstasy (1956)

Oil on canvas

During a stay in Paris in 1936, Asger Jorn started working for Fernand Léger, while enlarging a children’s drawing for Le Corbusier on the occasion of the 1937 World Exhibition.  He was also strongly attracted to the spontaneous element in Juan Miró’s and Max Ernst’s brand of surrealism.

During the Second World War, Jorn revealed himself as an engagé artist in the Danish group Helhesten (‘Hell horse’), and contributed to their magazine. His paintings from that period resemble vegetative landscapes, peopled with mythical beings, and executed in a heavy expressionist style. In 1947, Jorn was the only member of the Danish group for experimental art to take part in the International Congress of Revolutionary Surrealism in Brussels. It is here that he met Christian Dotremont. Together, they became the prominent spokesmen and driving forces behind the international CoBrA group. In the March 1949 issue of the homonymous magazine, Jorn rejected Surrealism. In 1953 he published the text entitled Spirals in an exhibition catalogue. In it, he stated that he only acknowledged ‘the spiral as a key to the graphic representation of the dynamic in philosophy and art,’ and as the sole organic symbol.

In Disquieting Ecstasy (1956) blue and green lines twist around the yellow ghostly figures with enlarged masked faces. The painting was inspired by the  annual carnival parade in the Italian town of Albisola, near Turin, where the artist made ceramics from 1954 onwards, together with Appel, Corneille, Baj, and Fontana. Jorn’s explosive and substance-oriented way of painting underscores the enflaming movements of the entranced revellers. Despite the loose brush strokes and daring colour scheme, the artist had not abandoned Léger and Le Corbusier’s methodological analysis of forms. This is particularly apparent in the balanced construction of the representation and the controlled distribution of colour within the surface. In 1956 he exhibited several paintings from Albisola at the Brussels-based Taptoegallery.

Jorn’s experiments with materials and techniques reveal the precarious balance in the discussions among avant-garde artists in the 1950s regarding the choice between abstract and figurative painting. In his paintings and writings, Jorn continually moved between both extremes.

(Jacques Lust)