The Art and Life of Thomas Øvlisen
Surface and form are the first words that spring into mind when thinking of Danish artist Thomas Øvlisen.
Combining automobile lacquer with enamel paint, the young Dane sculpts intriguing and multi-dimensional works and objects from materials such as glass fibre, foam, felt and Kevlar.
He props his works against the walls or places them on the floor, inviting his audience to touch and interact with his art, because in the Øvlisen universe there’s a tangible aspect to art.
His working process is one of constant transformation, continuously adding and removing layers.
Øvlisen works out of a Copenhagen studio, exhibits through Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery in New York and V1 Gallery in Copenhagen. He was educated at Rhode Island School of Design – and most of his network is in New York, which he counts as his second home.
“There’s nothing more strange than life, there’s nothing more coincidental than life. Everything we do, everyone we meet is down to chance,” says Øvlisen as we meet up in his studio for a talk on art and life. “I guess chance has always played tricks on me.”
“My art always consists of objects. I paint on all surfaces,” he explains. “Back in school I studied painting, but quickly realised that I wasn’t really into making illusions – you know three-dimensional illusions on a two-dimensional surface. I wanted to explore the borderland between performance, sculpting and conceptual art.”
“To me painting is ideal when it comes to describing or criticizing society. It symbolises our biggest construction today, which is art in the preserved form. Like a square for example, you don’t find that anywhere in nature. So that was my starting point. I started by eroding a square – subsequently pouring layers of paint upon it and then scraping some of it off again.”
Øvlisen tells me how worn cars fascinate him – and how he actually simulates weather processes in his works to give them the feel of a car rusting in the sun, the paint peeling off exposing the metal eroding beneath.
“To me the automobile lacquer symbolises the number one enemy of nature. You could say it’s a symbol of our culture too. The square and the car – that’s us and it’s what destroys us,”
he says with an intent look at me.
“I remember how impressed I was as a kid of the sequoia trees in California. And then they carved holes in them so you could drive through them in your car – and we were really proud about that, but then the trees died. I used to think of that as a symbol of Western mentality, but now I think of it as a human way of thinking.”
“Nature is survival. Humanism is culture. In other words: Once you’ve survived, you can start taking care of others. And if you don’t you’re inhuman,” says Øvlisen as we say our goodbyes. “How you want to give is up to you to find out. If you’ve got something to give, you’re obliged to.”
Current city: Copenhagen