Trine Ross

   In the more entertaining areas of psychology one finds such questions as "If your life was a car, what make would it be?" If we were to transfer a similar question to the paintings of Peter Holck, we might ask "If the paintings were a person what kind of a person would that be?" The answer would have to be: a witty, friendly smiling and discreetly charming person who hides his knowledge behind his smile but whom it can certainly repay us to listen to and converse with.

Holck's method, namely to imitate, caricature, steal and manipulate the styles of well-known artists, becomes the accommodating smile which the spectator meets with upon first catching sight of the paintings. However, this does not at all mean that there isn’t more hidden in the work then we meet upon first glance.

One of the comforting features of Holck's paintings is precisely this familiarity. Holck has many heroes from the annals of twentieth century Fine Art and he makes unrestrained use of their stylistic expression in his own works. One of Holck's favourite artists is Fernand Léger, whose thick black outlines recur in many of the paintings; but Léger's expressed aim of creating an accessible art also finds an echo here. At all events, Holck has captured the parellelism between the French painter and his Danish girlfriend (the painter Franciska Clausen) and Holck's relationship to his colleague (the artist Ewa Werber). Holck is also fond of allowing a number of artists to meet directly on the canvas, as in the painting Léger Meets Mondrian (Léger mřder Mondrian, Cat. No.17), where Léger's stage hands - complete with stereotyped bulging muscles - go about the business of assembling a number of coloured, rectangular flats in a construction of black laths. Holck’s references are manifold in this work. For example, he comments on Léger's connection to murals (such as, for example, we can find in the work of Diego Rivera, who was also very fond of using scaffold constructions as the framework for a painting). At the same time, Holck elegantly blows Mondrian's flat surfaces to pieces by showing the blue rectangle a little from the side! And yet, all the same, Holck emphasizes the painting as flat, perhaps even more clearly than Mondrian does in his own work; at all events, Holck uses completely different forms as agents.

Mondrian is another of Holck's role models and sources. Sunlight shining through a window and falling onto the floor can often form outlines which, with their few straight lines, can recall to mind one of Mondrian's paintings. Holck has not only made this very acute, accurate and fine observation he has also turned it into a painting (Cat. No.14). By thus painting the phenomenon and, moreover, by allowing the artist's name to be etched into the transparent window-pane Holck practices a liberating blasphemy at the aesthetic artist’s expense, who has now signed the work transversely, like a second Miró (Cat. No.9). In other paintings from the same series the mid-day sun falls as flatly as it does into one of Edward Hopper's deserted streets, and the title of the painting reinforces this impression: Mondrian Meets Hopper (Mondrian mřder Hopper; Cat. Nos.15 & 16). In still yet other works it seems to be the art gallery's white interior upon which the shadow is cast. These white-on-white rooms, which started life in museums and later spread out into the world of the art gallery as well as the private sphere received the name: White Cube. It is a place where the grime and confusion of the everyday is banished in favour of a tranquil peace, a meditation - in deepest silence - about the essence of Art. But today, these holy halls of are under attack. Raw industrial premises are preferred to the sterility of the white cube. Art wants to meet ‘the man on the street’ just as Léger himself wished it to be. Holck can be a number of things at once: discreetly absent-minded, jeeringly stage-managing and thought-provoking.

Double-meanings also appear in the series Techno-Tantra (Cat. Nos. 32,33 & 34), where the human figures are made out of very thin sheets of card recalling to mind the universe of those early primitive computer games. Once again, the art-historical references point back to the first half of the twentieth century and Holck’s favourite painters but the spatial construction is displaced and the human figures, which - without difficulty - we ‘read’ from the coloured shapes are clearly involved in physical acts which can appear mechanically repetitive but which were certainly not amongst early Modernism’s preferred themes. Here cultural elitism meets the carnal.

On the face of it, Holck’s pastiches or caricatures are clearest in the portraits of artists, which are almost double-portraits: they catch the artist’s likeness and characteristics and at the same time they distil the artistic expression. As when Mertz is painted, in Red and Blue (Cat. Nos.5 & 6), with round spectacles or when Barnet Newman’s almost Hitchcockian profile (not in catalogue) is drawn by a single yellow line on a red canvas. "Who is afraid of red, yellow and blue?" Newman once asked and a great many artists have tried to ask similar questions since. Generally without luck. Perhaps the reason for this lack of luck is that Newman has already been there, spoken the words and put the lines across the canvas. If an artist intends to follow in Newman’s footsteps then it shouldn’t be literally. Everybody has to find his or her own questions.

Just as the portraits of the artists give a general ‘keynote’, a pivotal point for the serial sequence, a woman can knit a narrative together. The naked female form is one of the most utilized themes in Western art and there have often been conjectures as to the relationship between artist and model. In this instance, however, we know the answer: Holck’s model is his wife Ewa Werber. I wonder if the great master’s models could be so clearly recognized in the finished works? Ewa Werber appears clearly, yet retains her full integrity, through Juan Gris’ cubism (Cat. Nos.30 & 31), Léger’s segmentation (Cat. Nos.25 & 26) and Lichenstein’s template (Cat. No.27). It is not only her mouth, eyes and hair which are reproduced but her complete being. These portraits which Holck has produced are therefore very real portraits even though they might be camouflaged as pastiches in imitation of other artistic styles .

And here we are again, back at the point where we came in: that which appears as a joke shows itself, in actual fact, to be a cloak for a seriousness of mind which digs deeper than Holck’s crooked smile, even if, at first glance, it appears as though he follows or simply parodies his role models. Holck’s ‘artifice’ lies exactly in apparently driving headlong at the observer, the source and the abyss whilst we, upon closer inspection, discover that the paintings tell completely different stories – or, perhaps, exactly the same, just in a completely different way.

Trine Ross