Variations In Blue
The exhibition takes it departure in several interwoven ideas and elements. A series of large oil paintings of seagulls in flight, painted on repurposed ping pong tables, basketball backboards, bamboo plywood and canvas; materials that Øvlisen had in the backyard of his studio or sourced from Den Blå Avis – Denmark’s largest listings marketplace for buying and selling used goods. The first work from the new series materialized on a ping pong table intended as a birthday present for Øvlisen’s son. The table was broken on delivery and a new table was promptly delivered to replace it. Øvlisen expected the company to take the broken table back and fix it, but it had apparently lost its commercial value and was left behind in his backyard. This act of excess, the symbolic shape, grid and colour of the table intrigued and provoked the artist to engage it as a vessel for art. Painting into his own memories and concerns. Danish maritime art history is our cultural terroir. Ocean surrounds us. This country is a constant coastline and it shows up in the sublime and glorifying paintings of our past, from Krøyer to Willumsen. Today our waters are filling up with plastic and our utopia is quickly becoming dystopian. Ocean dissolving into heaven and clouds. Horizontal lines appearing and disappearing in the formal markings on the tables. The iconic, at least for Danes, porcelain dining set Mågestellet, created in 1895 by Fanny Grade, the quintessence of good taste for the bourgeois and later middle class with aspirations: the first thing a man with artistic ambitions, born in 1974, would run from. Or maybe fly from, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, in search of free flight and a higher plane of existence. The sound of cordage against the masts in Danish harbours, a dual reminder that we are a proud maritime nation, that we can board a ship and dream ourselves to foreign shores, and the gradual foreclosure of that dream, as we keep treating the planet with apparent neglect. That there will be no safe shore, as the poles melt and the oceans rise. The seagulls, descendants of dinosaurs, graceful and common as man, evoke the individual beauty of the living, no discrepancy in numbers. The ping pong tables and basketball backboards as signifiers of both free, careless fun and the Olympic games. Defined by rules. A hierarchy of winners and losers. A mirror of contemporary society.
A series of sculptures flank the paintings. The series, titled Trophies I Never Won (From 2018 and ongoing), are crafted from repurposed single use plastic bottles, coffee cups and other disposables that are assembled into trophy-like constructions and finally silver-plated. Visually in limbo between a homemade trophy for world’s best mom, son or neighbour, and a rain gauge. A gentle reminder that we can utilize our resources better in a mind-set less concerned with winning and more engaged in the future of our current home. ¬We hope the Trophies I Never Won will remain half full; we only have these shores to settle on, while we hopefully grow wiser.