By Mikael Wivel
Ever since Kurt Trampedach had his break-through at the end of the 1960s with paintings of great and strange originality, he has stood as one of the most noticeable individuals in Danish art.
Kurt Trampedach has simply not been one to ignore. He has established himself both as a much-admired and stigmatised artist on the home front, but also someone to reckon with on the international artistic arena. Since the middle of the 1980’s, Trampedach has exhibited regularly in New York at the Allan Stone Gallery, where his peculiar, unqualified paintings have caused sensation. His paintings are like no one else’s – he is completely himself. Anyone can see that for himself at the major retrospective exhibition, which these months can be seen in Denmark. It opened at Sofienholm outside of Copenhagen and is now presented in Randers Kunstmuseum (Randers Art Museum) in Jutland – and it ends next year at Fyns Kunstmuseum (Funen’s Art Museum) in Odense. An additional separate exhibit with several completely new works will be displayed at the International Art Show at The Armory in New York in February 2002.
One thing that is instrumental in characterising Trampedach is that both his paintings and his life have been influenced by steady buoyancy and a strong desire to continually move boundaries and reach up into the light. And he has never been one to do things by halves. The career had humble beginnings in a small, dark apartment on the outskirts of Copenhagen, today he and his wife live in a stone house, built by himself on a mountainside in the French Basque country. Here he lives in a world totally his own- a world in which he has made his own imprint on everything, right down to the smallest detail. From time to time – and with great intervals – he leaves this self-imposed but fruitful isolation and travels to New York, or back to Copenhagen where he always stays at Hotel D’Angleterre, which is located adjacent to the art academy where he started out as a painter almost forty years ago. There is a marvellous logic in this choice of address, he can not only mentally tie connection to his starting point, but at the same time also to some extent maintain the rhythm that is mandatory for his continuing work. The hotel might not be a mountainside, but it does afford him the opportunity of living undisturbed in the middle of a metropolis.
The last time he moved into D’Angleterre in connection to the presently on-going, retrospective show, he was accompanied by a co-traveller, a sculpture of a tiny being placed in a pushcart, which was to be the final object at the exhibition. It wasn’t completed, but it got finished during the week prior to the opening. The hotel room thus became the natural extension of his mountainside studio.
The sculpture represented a small child or a tiny painter sitting on a stool with a paintbrush in its hand and a palette in front. A dwarf or a gnome or a troll, but first and foremost a self-portrait. And as such a synonym of Trampedach’s achievement. Because no painter, neither in Denmark nor anywhere else, has so often and so persistently concerned himself with himself and his own psyche. Using an almost disturbing consequence he has at all times taken his starting point in his own physiognomy and personal situation when the world was to be portrayed in paintings.
However, it has never been a question of self-portraits in the normal conception where the artist stands before a mirror, paintbrush and palette in hand. Rather, it has been a mental picture or physical likeness where the condition is conjured up by the colours rather than a characteristic. Kurt Trampedach’s finest self-portraits have never had the momentary character, but have always carried buoyancy towards eternity itself. Initially he sat inside the pictures, in the darkness ready to leap, listening, cautiously and expectantly. Later on he rose and walked rapidly along the city walls, on his way from edge to edge, driven by a never-ceasing desire to investigate the expanses he was about to conquer as an artist. And finally he quite literally came into character and stepped out of the pictures – in a series of spectacular tableaux in which sculptures of an absolutely shocking resemblance took the expanses into final possession.
It was not a sculpture of this realistic type, though, that Trampedach pulled behind him into Hotel D’Angleterre in June 2001. It wasn’t a self-portrait with recognisable features but rather some kind of substitute. A small precocious child who didn’t just represent the painter’s profession but also the life he had led and the ancestors who bore him. If one looks closely one can thus discover the painter’s parents etched as small figures on child’s shoulders, just like the painter himself and his siblings are drawn as childish contours on the white collar. This etchings in which the ancestors become visible were completed in the hotel room where the sculpture replaced the TV set, and there it sat, day and night, and stared at the painter with its big, inscrutable eyes. It kept him company, but it also kept him alert and as such kept the artistic vein flowing. So that’s how a hotel room can also function – creatively and consciousness widening.
The sculpture is incredibly characteristic for Trampedach’s latest development as an artist, where he to an ever-increasing extent and with ever-greater psychological insight investigates his past and his roots for tracks to follow. He does this in an attempt to understand his life better – and thus present it as exemplary, for others as well. The substitutes have come to stay in his works, they are in there in the paintings with wondering eyes asking us questions that we cannot ignore. We have to answer.