Maibritt Borgen

Morten Buch

(Interview – EN)

“According to Plato, even if each individual horse is different from other horses, they are all cast from the same mould – the form ‘horse’ – the form that allows us all to recognise a horse when we come across one. This pure form – the basic form of the object – is at once the inherent idea and the innermost nature of the object. Morten Buch’s (b. 1970) current exhibition, No Halo, is about what happens when this form is wrenched out of its original meaning and turned into a challenge to the innermost nature of things. What happens to us, as spectators, when we encounter a form that is clearly recognisable and yet also seems strange? A form that compels us to take a position on the naturalness of the object which is a part of the way we are anchored in the world and the way we relate to our surroundings? The title of the exhibition refers to the endeavour to avoid making motifs transcend in the traditional sense of the word. Once the motif is no longer provided with a halo but rather secularised, it becomes possible to challenge the form and connotation of the object – to displace a seemingly obvious and familiar motif.”


What strikes one first about the exhibition is your consistently figurative approach and your choice of familiar and everyday motifs – a vase, a tent, a shoe…


Even if this is what is most conspicuous at first, the choice of motif is not necessarily the most significant feature. My primary concern is not whether it is one or the other. What really interests me is the associations that arise in connection with the choice of motif. Having a motif stimulates certain things, psychologically speaking. A motif serves as an excuse for doing certain things – in relation to form as well as colour – that are otherwise hard to achieve by purely abstract means. In abstract painting, what you end up with is often a certain kind of system or simply just yourself perhaps. If you have a motif, however, you can get other ideas, do something new and maybe place the colour more precisely on the canvas. You can divide the colours in a specific way and perhaps do more irrational stuff as well. You begin by seeing something – a thing, a form – that makes an impression on you, something that you want to depict. But then it actually becomes something else. It moves and assumes another character when you begin to paint.


Your paintings reflect your consistent choice of object-rendition, and yet they also convey a deep love and knowledge of colour…


The texture and the way the colour presents itself and changes on the canvas is just as important to me as the figurative approach. I seek to render a certain intensity, a certain visual experience which is closely linked to the colour. But, for me, texture and expressivity is also very much a question of allowing the eye to move around in the painting in a certain way. In that sense, the exhibition reaches back to my earlier experiences as an abstract painter when I would explore what it took to make a painting work. And in a way, I still exploit this a little today. I try to give the painting a construction – not only considered as motif, but also in its relation to the surface and the colours I use – that is so solid that it simply cannot go wrong, as I see it. I try to make the painting so well-composed that no matter what the hell I do – even if I tumble into the painting – it will still succeed. And the effects I employ are always highly calculated. I want to gain a quite specific experience from the colours I use. They must possess brightness and precision, and I think Frank Stella expressed himself very accurately when he said that he wanted the colours to remain as beautiful on the canvas as they were in the can. I actually consider this to be a very good ambition, not to ruin the colour, but to be humble and to try not to make the colour worse than it was to begin with.


Even though your paintings are so precise and so deliberate, they still radiate a kind of rawness, ferocity and expressive energy…


It is also extremely important that the painting has a ‘now’, a certain immediacy in its effect. As far I am concerned, painting is comparable to the theatre – the feeling that is ‘live’ and that it can fail. That is why it is incredibly important that each brush stroke falls exactly as it does and that it emphasises the way it is placed in the work. It is crucial that you somehow sense that it could have gone wrong, that they could have been placed differently. Personally, once I begin to feel that the expression of the painting testifies to a long and well-planned process, I simply get bored. Not that this makes it a bad painting. I just find it unbearable.


So even if the various effects are calculated, it is not a well-constructed visual expression you are trying to achieve?


No, I guess I am rather trying to achieve a certain immediacy. A sense that the painting is painted in an instant. I also like to use as big brushes as possible, as big as the form allows, so to speak. I try to create the feeling that some clumsy giant just sort of reached down from above and made something casually, preferably something kind of big.


You have quite consistently chosen to depict your objects in a non-figurative space. What does this kind of de-contextualising do to your motifs?


I think it conveys my interest in the sculptural – in the rendition of a form. Furthermore, I believe that the lack of spatial location benefits the motifs. It emphasises their physical properties and their inherent space, since almost all my motifs carry a spatiality within themselves. They are figures that can actually contain something – a vase, a tent and shoe – and this why I have not wanted them to be surrounded by a space.


But although you choose to work with familiar forms, your choice of size and colour gives the impression of a motif that, in an almost Claes Oldenburg-like sense, becomes ’larger than life’…


When you blow a motif like this shoe for instance (Sko 2006) into the proportions you see here, into the extreme size of 2 x 2 metres, things begin to change and to turn into something else, they become more than the object. The space inside the shoe transcends the form of the shoe and becomes almost like a kind of body or space one can relate to physically. Magnifying things creates a new situation in which the body is forced to re-adjust. And it is this readjustment or re-orientation that is interesting.
This is something that really interests me about form and figuration. Constantly trying to move a given concept of a thing in a completely different direction and thereby forcing one to respond to the painting in a state of doubt and in a sentient manner. You cannot infer something obvious, you can not just say: ‘This is a shoe’, because that would not make sense. It barely resembles a shoe, but you still recognise the structure of a shoe, so if it is not a shoe, what is it? And this is precisely what I want to do with a painting, I want to get to this ‘… then, what is it?’ Ultimately, it causes you to ask yourself, not only what a shoe is, but – even more important – what a painting is.
I try to make the objects ambiguous, because I hate it when it is too easy to decode a painting. Which is also why find it so hard to deal with direct messages and too communicative art. Many other media are better suited to express conclusions or analyses. As I see it, this is not where art is strongest. I find it much more interesting to attempt to maintain an ambiguity, a sensuousness or a curiosity, and this is the primary purpose of what I do. To create a feeling that is impossible or stupid or silly, but somehow also impressive or beautiful. This tension between opposites is essential.


According to the introductory material for the exhibition, in your art things assume an entirely original ’Buch form’. How would you describe this form?


When I take a look around me, it appears to be a really rather awkward form, right? It may have something to do with the fact that I am so fond of these beautiful colours that I need the awkwardness and the crude as a counterweight. But it runs deeper than a mere question of colour. On a more thematic level, it is also a protest against the body. I like to create a sort of impossibility, a body that does not do what it is told. A sense, in the painting itself, that things are going wrong, that it lacks precision and fails. But at the same time, I want it to have an unfailing sharpness or clarity about it: the impression of a clear mind in a body that refuses to follow instructions. This is the way I would like paint. A space in which all ideas are short-circuited and things become intangible. Maybe the Buch form is really about a special kind of clumsiness that makes it difficult to maintain a one-sided conceptual system. Concepts start to fall apart a little, because things won’t quite do what they normally do.


Because the form becomes clumsy?


Because the body is clumsy and because maybe it is not like we think it is, maybe not even like we describe it. I think, for me, this is what this form is all about – challenging our concepts a little.