Peter Michael Hornung

 

 

The text below is from the catalogue "Standmynd". Selected works 1987 - 2004

 

HANS PAULI OLSEN
 

Standmynd is the Faroese word for sculpture. If we translate the word literally, it means "standing picture". Hans Pauli Olsen has always been fond of the word. For him, standmynd expresses something essential about the sculpture's iden­tity, namely that it is a picture of something that stands upright, a delineation, which is lifted up right in front of the viewer. However, in contrast to its artistic kinsman, the painting on the wall, the sculpture contains an extra dimension. It takes pos­session of the space and has the capacity to draw the room into itself. It makes sense to move around it, so that you can experience it from many sides. While it is true that the various sides are linked together and emanate from the same core, they are also distinctly different as experiences. Each one makes its own contribution to the sculpture's overall identity.

Hans Pauli Olsen is a pictorial artist and not merely a sculptor in the strict sense of the word. He does not carve his sculp­tures out from some intractable material like marble or granite. Instead, he models and forms his pieces as a sum of many smaller forms, until the forms come to fashion the picture he is looking for. It is not the greatest possible simplicity which is his errand but rather the richest and most original story.

It is the statuesque which is crucial to Hans Pauli Olsen's way of grasping the essential nature of sculpture. In order to succeed in its mission, however, a sculpture has to be something more than a mere statue. Its visual idiom must necess­arily contain an idea. This idea might be a story about an important event. It might involve the influence of a certain his­toric figure or be simply dealing with something that people do in their everyday lives, like taking a bath or looking in the mirror. Hans Pauli Olsen's figures are actors in the midst of a surrounding world that changes in character from one work to another.

In its deepest essence, Hans Pauli Olserí s art is anthropomorphic, which means to say that it appears to resemble something human. The fact that the work articulates itself through the human figure conjoins the artist with antiquity and with a host of sculptors who, throughout the course of art history, have fumed their attention to the art of ancient times. Hans Pauli Olsen's realism takes its point of departure in the bodily: there are figures in almost every one of his works. This recurrent trait has not made his task any easier, since Hans Pauli Olsen is not an artist who works with thinking his way toward a form. He has to see it in front of him and be in the same room with it. For this reason, he works with models.

But even the best model cannot supply the whole story. No matter how much the delineation of the person means to Hans Pauli Olsen, he is always searching to draw a greater reality into his work. One inextricable element of this reality, of course, is the working artist himself. The French sculptor, Rodin, was once accused of having made a cast of a person instead of creating a sculpture. Such an accusation could be construed as an inadvertent complimentto the master's profi­ciency as a sculptor. But we must assume that Rodin was aiming at something more than a mere manifestation of his pro­ficiency. The proficiency was only a means. The goal was to make his way toward a new truth about the statue in its two­fold nature as a new possibility in a modern world and as a convergence between two identities and temperaments: on the one side, those of the artist - and on the other, those belonging to the depicted person.

To Hans Pauli Olsen, a sculpture is not merely the delineation of one particular figure any more than a statue or a por­trait is simply one person who has been regenerated in another material. The sculpture has to contain more than its figu­rative source. It must also contain traces of the artist who has executed the work ... a trail, which is something like a signa­ture that cannot be read but has to be seen.

The work with any sculpture begins with a growth point, a core. At first, gradually, the sculpture's core is supplied with extension. Little by little, its surface comes to be sensual and present. A story takes form and takes possession of the space; and this flow does not necessarily terminate at the figure's feet. It might continue down into the socle or the base upon which the figure is standing. In this underlying substructure the artist can discover the surrounding world and those items of information that a figure cannot procure for itself and which, on the other hand, the figure also cannot exist apart from.

The socle is necessary to the sculptor in somewhat the manner that the frame is necessary to the pointer. The sole es­tablishes a dividing line between the viewer's world and the world of the sculpture - between the plane that belongs to re­ality and the plane that belongs to the fiction, for the sole is really a podium. It's something like a rostrum, which elevates the honored speaker and renders him visible to other people. While the sole thus constitutes a preliminary condition for the sculpture's capability of separating itself, it can also form a constituent part of the narrative and come to be an integral part of the sculpture itself. In any case, that's what's happening in Hans Pauli Olsen's work. Many of his sculptures are built up in the manner of distinctive relations between socle and figure. In the monument for William Heinesen, the sculp­tor has allocated to the socle a considerable degree of significance with respect to the identification of the figure. In 'To ens' [Two Identical Ones], the socle or, to put it more precisely, the interaction between two figure-embellished socles is fundamental to the basic conception of the entire work. It's very seldom that Hans Pauli Olsen dispenses entirely with employing the socle. However, he did so in 'Manden med stenen' [The Man with the Stone], since the subject, who has in­cidentally been realized with the artist himself as the model, stands directly on the ground.

Shaping such an intricately composite assertion involves an extensive process which calls for its necessary detours. In art, the detours can easily come to serve as sources of enrichment for the one who is moving. As a matter of fact, they are sometimes the prerequisite condition for being able to reach the goal altogether. This does sound paradoxical, indeed. However, in the realm of visual art - in contradistinction to what governs plane geometry - the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line..

Prior to every work of art, there is an idea. At the outset, the artist does not know whether the idea is the right one, he does not know whether the idea is going to hold water, whether it will be capable of being sustained in the long run and fulfil all his intentions, for there might also be other inroads, other whims. When an artist goes about solving a problem, accordingly, he's got to test his way forward. He has to test out his idea or, to put it more precisely: he has to test out all his ideas, because it is more the rule than the exception that he is working with several ideas. A work of art that has been carried to its conclusion will always have its own specific genealogical tree of alternative possibilities and solution-models, which have been conceptualized, considered and sketched out but were finally cast aside in the end. All these tributaries amount to a precondition for the work's genesis in much the same way that the casing of plaster constitutes a precondi­tion for the bronze cast. In a painter's way of proceeding, these potential solutions lie there, concealed ever so unobtru­sively inside the colour's material, as attempts that have been abandoned and rendered invisible beneath the succeeding layer of colour. It is somewhat easier for the sculptor to drag his solution-models out from their hiding places, since they of­ten have their own existence apart from the finished artwork, as small studies that can be found on the studio's shelves or as solutions that were simply abandoned underway and left to stand as fragments.

When Hans Pauli Olsen has been entrusted with an assignment, he goes about looking for the solution in the prelimi­nary drawings that he sketches. This means to say that he sets out to gain control of his idea in two dimensions before ven­turing onward into the third dimension, When he finds that he cannot proceed any further with the drawing process, he begins making models of the sketches. It is at this juncture that the need for the actual study from the living model comes into play. Working with a model has always been important to him. As the artist himself tells us, he has always abstained from giving free rein to his imagination and fantasizing in a way that is discordant with the human anatomy's proportion­al relationships. To a sculptor, anything is beautiful if it has its roots in reality.

Reality is rarely ungenerous to the artist who seeks his inspiration in that which is both true and beautiful. In one and the same work, as a matter of fact, he can combine several different observations or several different kinds of realities, some­times with the agency of small and larger figures and their mutual proportions. Hans Pauli Olsen accomplished such a feat with his sculpture, 'Ved stranden' [On the Beach]. And he did so again in 'Havfruen' [Mermaid] and 'To billeder' [Two Pictures]. However, with the exception of 'Manden med stenen', a figure he supplied with especially large hands, Hans Pauli Olsen has never deviated from the anatomically correct foundation for the individual figure. This canon or har­mony among proportions is a point of origin that must be respected, according to his perception of the task, since it is only through respect for such a foundation that the imagination can flourish in a natural manner.

Coming as far as he has with this vision has not always been an easy task. As a young student at the academy, Hans Pauli Olsen was urgently encouraged to dissociate himself from naturalism and even to abandon it. His professor at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Willy Ørskov, harbored the opinion that the last genuine naturalistic sculptor had died. Arisfide Maillol was this sculptor, the one who had finally managed to put a period at the end of a long story about the naturalistic figure's possibilities. As a consequence of this, simply recycling this classical idiom of expression was no longer a viable option for a modern sculptor. Should he choose to do so, he would be betraying his own time's ideals and be allying himself maladroitly with the ideals of the past.

In the long run, however, abstraction, as the only alternative to the naturalistic way of rendering the human body, could not hold Hans Pauli Olsen's interest. Nature continued to become more and more important to him. Too important. The upshot here was that, during his days of study at the academy, he was forced to go and find his ideals and prototypes outside the institution, in the impulses and encouraging incentives he received by familiarizing himself with the history of sculpture and by studying the public monuments throughout the city's space. Hans Pauli Olsen continues to be immersed in these pursuits. There are few people who know the city's statues better than he does. His teachers became important in a rather unusual kind of way: they incited him (albeit inadvertently) into ruminating over what it was that he really wanted to do, in the first place, with his sculptures. By attempting to pull him in other directions, they somehow succeeded in testing out his strength and in coercing him to hold tightly to his own ideals and ambitions. ,

Hans Pauli Olsen's development as a sculptor has reflected itself in the work of artists whom he has admired during various periods of his life. In the beginning of his career, he was primarily looking up to the serenely composed form's, representative agents in French and Danish sculpture, to leading lights like Maillol and Gerhard Henning. Later on, his eyes opened up to Danish artists such as Kai Nielsen, Anne Marie Carl Nielsen, Mogens Bmggild and Gottfred Eickhoff, whose oeuvre he continues to appreciate and esteem very highly. It was first in the middle of the nineteen-eighties that he became fully attentive to Rodin. There was a process of maturation that Hans Pauli Olsen had to live through, and suddenly Rodin engulfed him in a most astonishing way. The Frenchman's understanding of form and manner of portraying the human figure were infinitely more daring and more expressive than those of any of the sculptors whose work he had pre­viously scrutinized. With Rodin, Hans Pauli Olsen began to understand that the light could be drawn right into the form if and when the form is vividly apprehended and reproduced. The sculpture's surface and 'skin' can only capture and de­lay the light's wandering and reflection in the material if - as we witness in an Impressionistic painting - the sculpture is bome aloft by a structure that favors the instantaneous moment's significance, which means to say, if and when the sculp­ture is realized on the instantaneous moment's premises. This poses quite a contrast, for example, to what we see in the ancient Egyptian and classical Greek statues, where sculpture, through its affiliation with a religious cult, stood for eternal and unchangeable values and, consequently, was necessarily compelled in its form to elevate itself above both the earth­ly plane and any time-related affects.     .

When it is the case with a work of clay or bronze that we can almost feel and trace the movement of the sculptor's hands through the material - and this is what we see in Hans Pauli Olsen's pieces, what comes into emergence is an open alliance between the artist and the present moment, the temporary, the transient, that which is merely passing by. Through this sculptural grasp, the artist is telling his surrounding world, which means to say, those people who are co­pable of taking an involved look, that sculptures, whether they represent people or something else, have always been shaped by someone who has necessarily had to leave his own trails in the material.

Although he is an artist who is living in a postmodem era, Hans Pauli Olsen is not a postmodem artist. The notion of originality is crucial to him, but he does not think of himself as a neo-symbolist and he is only really interested, for exam­ple, in that aspect of Rudolph Tegner's work that reminds him of Rodin. Nonetheless he would not deny that his sculptures might contain symbols and forms that can bring new assumptions about a person or some historic narrative to light, sym­bols and forms whose meaning in relation to the whole accordingly extends beyond the purely formal. The art, however, involves getting the symbol itself to serve the needs of the sculpture.

A sculpture must be original; it has to be unique in its significance. Its bearing notion must be the artist's own and not something he has borrowed or derived from others.

In order to be original, a sculpture has to capable of standing up for its existence as a work of art. Hans Pauli Olsen's sculptures do just that.

 

Peter Michael Hornung

translated by Dan A. Mormorstein