Mikkel Olaf Eskildsen is a painter, illustrator, and craftsman from Copenhagen that intertwines the warm lucid dreams we are too scared to speak of and the bittersweet reality of our being. These are his confessions, teachings, and thoughts of traditions and upbringing.
The artist I am has changed through the recent years. The content of my work has continues to change in consistency that no longer can be sustain. What has been systematic investigated, petered out from a source of self indulgence that developed into chaos. The essence of simplicity laid there bare in sun after floods whirled my soul in despair and a force from inside opened the chest and revealed vulcans shredding dead black vomit- and it was not a happy new year. Finally, indeterminate liquids ran dry from the heart. Silence after the storm revealed pearl shaped form covered in grey slime on the bare seafloor, not much to notice. How could I know the value of essence of simplicity from no others but me. It kept laying there for a while – could not touch it, too exhausted. The unknown exposure, new ground is what’s left behind.
The idea in this deed in structures, which folds out in lush and joy and knowledge of the hard, but important side of being an artist- the shell that contains the soft futility.
It could be said like this: two directions leads to questions in my art today. In one hand I see myself surrounded by the hard and sometimes rigid, perpetual force of art in the contemporary field. It has its references to theory, conceptual thinking, and it shows itself in a scene that gives labels of “verified form” that revolves around academic approach to the why and how we make an image. This is very influential for me- I am not only making an idea for myself, instead, the already established idea forms my choices in how I want to evolve as an artist. It keeps me in a cultural deadlock which builds up this awareness of how strong linear time is. Yet, on the other hand, it is about coming off the turnpike of these qualities to follow a hidden overgrown path to a wasteland of my forgotten internal beauty.
I was educated at The Royal Danish Art Academy and experienced the importance of art as an institution and how knowledge of art can give the right tools to convey intentions and talent. However, the road that leads to my true inspiration leads to my own background, and it’s stronger and more clear than ever. It’s the drawn line of my past which my grandmother sketched for me when I was a young boy.
I feel connected to the traditional way of giving a task to the young from the old. It’s interesting that in such “free thinking” age of art we live in now, there is room for traditions. I even draw with the same pens my grandmother gave me.
When things changed drastically in the late 60s and beginning of the 70s, the western world became “free of rules”. Freedom of expression and experimenting with your mind, body, and soul. Within this new renaissance of thought, my grandmother told me one thing that stuck, I should become a draftsman – I guess she meant a drawing artist. “Here is a family task, you have to do what your relatives tells you. Keep the line going. Stay within the premise of the pike that leads to the wasteland…make your garden there. Through blood and through ink.”
My first awareness of the craft of drawing comes from my grandmother who was an illustrator. I remember sitting besides her while she created neat ink drawings- worlds of food, idyllic gardens, with touches of oriental influence, family, home, love and an absolute world of joy. In a way it is ironic to dive into her earlier work today, when most of the drawings were made during the 1940s of occupied Denmark. Through day and night she had to stay inside a dark room with little light and shadowed windows as she drew a world that was not outside her door. In these dreams of hers I found something that helps me remember who I am. I learned beauty and love in art from something she longed for. Drawing is in my roots and therefore I am continuing that specific tradition that flows within my veins, so I am not only working through academic proportions. My grandmother has drawn an extended beautiful line, and she has carefully handed me the pen so I may continue that process.
Despite the circumstances that limited my grandmother´s opportunities to promote her own artistic activity, the development of a homemade universe of adventurous form has influenced me to work with imagery, in an atmosphere of density and proximity. Dreams and psychology since then have always played a significant role and leads naturally to an interest for 1800s romantic and symbolist art. It’s fascinating to see art with timeless eyes. It is so clear to me now how artists in the 1800s built up complex universes created out of poetic justification, motif, and composition that often hold an illustrative quality often linked to questions of spirituality. In my mind it could be formed as this question: Has art in history become a messenger, a bearer of something greater than humanity?
Today it seems like these values are coming back and drawing has developed from being a flat formality, to a way of letting narrativity become a central role in a piece. The same tendencies as seen in Symbolist and Romantic art is emerging in certain contemporary drawings. Artist like Chris Ofili, Laura Owens, Kara Walker and Kiki Smith mix old technique and storytelling with contemporary content and play with a very special and specific narrative formula. These artist stand out as craftsmen and craftswomen who have successfully maintained a position that leads other artists of today away from the work in the more neo-minimalistic and conceptual art-field, where the “law” is only of one direction, hence conceptual art.
From that point of view I would say that the modern breakthrough in the late 1800s still holds authority, but in a changing perspective. The retention of more recent modern concepts such as there is no religion, has also maybe moved on a little further. The “god is dead” aspect is an interesting focus if it can be turned the other way around. It is said, in high principles of modernity, that the only way we as humans are able to create is off man-made ideas and creations. I believe in the paradox, where there is something else that cannot be measured within art. An object as we see it through modern principles does not hold the power of spirituality, but it can be understood as such through a metaphysical entity within us that reflects a certain content of the work.
The field of searching for a soul and “seeing the spirit in the shell” as in religious and supernatural beliefs is very much built on a visual narratives that dwell in personal experience and stories. My approach to this question of spirituality in art is to go back to Romanticism and Symbolism to catch the “glance”, “glow”, “flare” of indefinite quality.
I somehow float in the same direction as 1800 century artists because they inspire me to dive within my own psychology. The state of art history now can no longer be considered as linear. Not only 1800 century art, but all kinds of art relate to or embrace a spiritual energy. It seems like spirituality has finally been accepted to become a part of contemporary thinking, yet, in certain aspects, communities still do not consider or included this in the “family” of fine art. It is a paradox because so many figurative “narrative” artist steal from romantic and symbolist artist and their spiritual rendition.
There are positive tendencies growing from mutual respect and understanding, not only between artists, but also curators and people who know art and work in institutions that show a lager interest in not letting the hard division in history rule the esthetics. This goes into an unwritten view of history. Perhaps in the future, besides being an esthetic force in society, also could be a mentor for how other aspects in society and religion could be practiced.
My art it’s not reflection of one direction, it stands for itself as a reality , not built on the physical laws we live in. In a way it replaces reality with another hallucinal and alienated forms that stray away from the world around us. But still connects us to nature, cities, human behavior etc. It’s figurative and recognizable but exists in it’s own right.
I am almost in a state of dreaming when I work and it makes me see things that I try to bring to the drawings. I value experimentations very highly and often drift away from starting points in the search for the new expressions, creating this homely dreamy feeling in whatever project I do. That too, comes from my grandmother. I will always see myself in a crossroad, as I mentioned, between art as an institution while walking the path which is more uncertain- bring me closer to who I am.