Copenhagen

Christian Schmidt-Rasmussen

Overgaden.

Christian Schmidt-Rasmussen is a painter with a demythologizing relationship to painting. Whether his canvases are ironic, cartoonlike, or deliberately fast and sloppy—or executed with some other style or strategy—they resist the medium’s historical gravity. On top of this, the image never stands alone, but is typically accompanied by narrative. In this midcareer survey, “Daywalker, giv slip” (Daywalker, Let Go), it is clear that blood is currently agreeable to his imagination. In an eponymous semiautobiographical diary that functioned as an exhibition catalogue, the artist confesses to having a secret life as a vampire who commits a veritable genocide of members of Copenhagen’s so-called creative class, which has, he claims, in recent years inflated art and therefore must be bled dry. Like all proper satire, the vampire story is an extravagant joke that won’t make everybody laugh. However, it can also be read as a vexed aesthetic treatise on the relations among author, work, and context, in which the carnage committed by the artist’s fiendish alter ego is mixed with dandyish observations on painterly method.

The show itself was an installation-like whole of image and text. Along with a series of large collages and a few melancholically leafless branches strewn around the space like props, it featured fourteen new paintings, hung on walls coated in black and green chalkboard paint. Depicted on the canvases was an everyday topography of semi-urban landscapes in Denmark (especially the artist’s own Copenhagen neighborhood, Sydhavnen)—a building site, a hot-dog stand, municipal infrastructure, and so on—and a single motif from Istanbul. Between these paintings the artist had chalked what he has called “dizzy, nonanalytical poetry”: brittle, flowchart-like graffiti. One section began with the statement I’M POSTING A LETTER BY THROWING IT OUT OF THE WINDOW and went on to chart a subsequent breakdown of logic through linked, associative text bubbles. In combination with the diary/catalogue’s gothic fable, the fabular imagination of the wall poetry made the paintings shimmer between the downbeat and the protean. Though the depicted scenes are easily legible as relaxed commonplace perceptions, they also bring together inner and outer realities, while the paint has an aleatory life of its own that threatens to unmoor figuration by dripping excessively down the canvas, as in Le Sacre du printemps, (The Rite of Spring), 2010, or becoming a screen of colorful blobs that emulate the snow falling around a young girl on her sled in Hvidovre Kælkebakke (til King Diamond) (Hvidovre Toboggan Hill [for King Diamond]), 2010.

Of course, Schmidt-Rasmussen’s project is carried by subjectivism. Hvidovre Kælkebakke is described by the artist in the diary/catalogue as “a tribute to the sulky, the passive, to the one who enjoys parading her doubt and maladjustment”—and it could be the artist himself in the picture, looking for forms in which his discomfort and surprise at the world may abide. If there is still much invested in the force of a monological current, imagination is opened up here through an offbeat social realism that names the local and the actual. More than ever, one sees what speaks through the artist, the affects and social narratives that his work allows to take mutated form. “Daywalker” benefited from the sometimes crushingly banal plane of reality in the paintings. No longer is the world all in the head of the artist. To Schmidt-Rasmussen, painting is still a technology of the self, but now it is also explicitly a tool to analyze context and city—the entire political ecology that runs in the nervous system.

Schmidt-Rasmussen’s work tends to sacrifice claims to universality for a sited enunciation. Characterized by a kind of anthropological vulnerability, his storytelling flips the well known into something foreign and strange. How, one wonders, would such an unusually warm and folksy yet destabilized epic translate outside the immediate context that it claims? This may seem like a strange question to ask of visual art in a world of globalized images, but it may therefore be all the more relevant vis-à-vis art’s function in the here and now. One answer is that sheer loquaciousness prevails. This is work that wants to level with its audience. Surely such a strategy can be as effective in Istanbul as in Copenhagen.

Lars Bang Larsen