« …drifting through the lingerie department »: Ditte Ejlerskov’s paintings

In spite of the unanimous negative opinions of her teachers regarding the matter, the young Danish artist has, with persistent stubbornness, returned to painting for the past decade.
While still a student at the Funen Art Akademy, Ditte Ejlerskov cared less about the future (or past) – forecasted as catastrophic – of the medium: if the artist took up her brush again, it was for the pure manual pleasure that painting brought her.
Initially, without any specific idea in mind, she started painting all sorts of images that fell into her hands or flashed before her eyes: images found in lifestyle or fashion magazines, in travel pamphlets, or taken from the internet. Among that colorful and alluring flow of images, Ejlerskov is most attracted to those of female pop stars—Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and especially Rihanna, who serves as the inspiration for a 2013 series of paintings.

In contrast to Elizabeth Peyton (with whom the « figurative »[1] works of The Rihanna Paintings bear some resemblance), the Danish artist is not drawn to highly staged and aestheticized portraits of celebrities posing for the camera. Rather, the images that retain Ejlerskov’s attention are the ones captured or « stolen » by paparazzi that constantly flood the net (on websites entirely dedicated to celebrities, but also on social networks like Twitter or Instagram, often circulated by the celebrities themselves).
The Rihanna Paintings series can be divided in two: on the one hand, small portraits of the singer from Barbados (paintings that we might call « figurative »); on the other hand, large scale paintings with colorful shapes and geometric patterns—paintings, in other words, that remind us of abstract paintings. The link between the two types of paintings might not be obvious at first glance, but the connection becomes clear quickly enough.
Ditte Ejlerskov proceeds by anamorphosis or by « zooming-in. » She picks a detail or a motif from the singer’s wardrobe that she enlarges or adapts to fill the full surface of the canvas. The « abstract » paintings are actually the reappropriation and representation of these motifs. The geometrical compositions correspond to the colors of a Givenchy vest (The Givenchy Diptych), for instance, or to a black and white blouse (The Zebra Zoom Painting), or again to a bikini bottom (The Sexy Painting), with Rihanna’s skin becoming a flat, solid-colored shape amongst other shapes.

It is said that the critic and philosopher Arthur Danto, upon walking into a room filled with paintings by Morris Louis one day, claimed the sight reminded him of a stroll through the lingerie department at Bendel’s[2]. With that in mind, are Ditte Ejlerskov’s paintings inspired by the department store or by other artists?
Here, a canvas with the word « BOY » on it, taken from a t-shirt made by the eponymous brand, recalls an On Kawara Date Painting (due to the format of the canvas and the centered bold white letters on a black background), while another piece seems to mimic the gestural drawing of Keith Haring and a third canvas, with large black and white stripes, evokes early experiments in Op Art.
If fashion and design took over the codes and language of fine art, and then art reappropriated images and forms from mass culture, the Internet might offer an end to the dispute[3]. On screen, there is no hierarchy; one image is equivalent to another. One can just as easily scroll through the photos of the latest Gucci collection as browse the photo galleries of the MoMA website. If Ditte Ejlerskov paints in an effort to slow down and digest a minuscule portion of the incessant flow of images, it might be because she acknowledges in these pictures the thinnest border between high art and low culture: a territory in which a Bridget Riley becomes the motif of a scarf, a space where the arched back of a pop star in mid-concert imitates the representations of ecstasy or exorcism in painting[4], unless it is instead this repertory of images that had already announced the arrival of muses such as these.

 Born in 1982 in Frederikshavn, Denmark, Ditte Ejlerskov lives and works in Malmö, Sweden.


[1] The use of « figurative » is meant only to distinguish the portraits from the abstract-looking paintings.

[2]  » It was Arthur Danto who once said that, at their very best, a room full of Morris Louis paintings was like drifting through the lingerie department at Bendel’s  »
Bob Nickas, « How to Write About… Jutta Koether, » Afterall.org, Summer 2010.

[3] The way the artist hangs her paintings often recalls the layout of the windows on computer screens: canvases are presented edge to edge or even on top of one another, concealing portions of the paintings and creating new compositions.

[4] Ditte Ejlerskov presents The Exorcism Collection at Crystal Contemporary in Stockholm in 2011. The series of paintings and drawings is inspired by a heterogeneous set of images, from photos of Beyoncé’s or Rihanna’s concerts to paintings of religious ecstasy or demonic possession found throughout art history. What these pictures have in common is the same pose: a woman, her feet or knees on the ground, her back arched backwards.

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