THE GREAT DANE, MARTIN TORSLEFF, TAKES YOU ON AN ARTISTIC JOURNEY IN TIME AND SPACE.
By Nicholas Kaiser.
Pablo Picasso once said, in an interview with Life Magazine in the 1950’s, that ’a photographer is a painter in disguise.’
Martin Torsleff’s background as a commercial photographer does evoke certain … reminders of this gifted quotation: The position as a qualified photographer is obviously more relevant for Torsleff than formal cridentials from a well-known Academy of Fine Arts. But Torsleff bears the mark of the true artist; he can’t help being creative. ’I Must!’ could be an alternative motto for this tall, blond Scandinavian, though his primary motto is radiance and accuracy.
His technique might for some seem old-fashioned – his studio bears a distinct scent of Oil and Canvas – but it is this insistence on making the exact statement with more traditional materials that shows his distance from certain ’Cash and Carry’-painters – and the concept of originality was exactly what struck me the most when I crossed the threshold to his studio in a bustling, but at the same time picturesque part of Torsleff’s hometown, Aarhus: A large portrait of Louis Armstrong is quite conspicuous. It is almost as if Torsleff simply is too big for smaller rooms.
He is apparently very fascinated by the human face – and hereunder, if not familiar, then well-known faces: There is a broad variety of celebrities, spanning old American moviestars to German football-players from the 1970’s. In this retrospective view of Torsleff’s works you feel another nerve in his paintings; an almost manic fascination with the 70’s. I mean, who would portray a disgraced American president; Nixon? Does anybody know who Karen Blixen or Poul Henningsen is – and how do Franz Beckenbauer, Lou Reed and Marlene Dietrich appeal to youth nowadays? Torsleff is a man in his late fourties, and you might say that he is investigating his past by this rendering of his childhood icons, but this is too poor an expression.
The answer is that these are pictures made for empty walls, but certainly not for empty brains: first and foremost, there is an almost xylographic persistance in many of his pictures. You simply have to allow a distance to these works, and then you will see that the comparison to a flickering mega-sized television-screen is not very far off. Torsleff is, of course, quite aware of this, and he shows a talented, intellectual capacity – and highly literary values – in his use of …intertextuality:
Actually he uses subtitles on many of his works. I can’t vouch for the translation of the presumed utterances of Anne Bancroft and Norma Jean Baker – it is drawn in Danish, but let me give an example in the case of Louis Armstrong: First line is ’Oh my god, it’s full of stars’ and second line is ’You’re flying the Concorde, sir’. The first line shows Torsleff’s love of the film-media, but also his literary ambitions and intellectual gaming with the audience; we all know what Captain David Bowman said when he entered the ancient, cosmic railway-station – so the following utterance must be imaginative. At least Torsleff could not give a clear explication of this.
But perhaps there really is a very refined Concordance in these high-flying works; as long as some stars are bigger than us, Torsleff will continue his ingenious explorations of the human possibilities in a rather big and relatively strange universe.
Dalgas Avenue 21
DK-8000 Aarhus C
+45 40 35 55 44