by Magnus Thorø Clausen, mag. art.

Rasmus Rosengaard

In modernism, the monochrome painting was understood as the logical endpoint of a development, which began with impressionism and concluded by conceiving painting as absolutely flat and without composition, the untainted color-painting. Rasmus Rosengaard’s monochromes transcend this story by never being completely flat and by always having a minimum of composition or syntax in the form of little differences between foreground and hinted background. In the works there is a hallucinating effect of depth, a sense of movement or rhythm between the various layers, such that the image constantly seems to change its character. The images are painted with graphite-based paint applied in several layers, which gives them a tensed metallic appearance. The graphite-dust make the paintings reflect the light from the surrounding room in the same way that industrially produced, cast-iron objects do. The gray monochrome can be associated with cold, emptiness and entropic loss of heat, but always slightly above absolute zero, always open to a becoming in both a material and existential sense.

The paintings vacillate between materiality and illusionism, between formlessness and form, between physical presence and associations to fog, mist or a veil… They relate to the monochromes of the 1960ies, although by transcending the monochrome form in the direction of a more nuanced expression, where radical reduction is replaced by more nuanced both/and solutions. As opposed to the minimalist monochromes, the paintings are open to association, to micro-composition (small nuances, displacements, movements on the surface) and to symbolism (for example through the use of poppy-seeds or fragments of animal bones). The minimalist monochrome form is thus combined with a position, which is more spiritually akin to romantic paintings of nature in images where color, materials, and signs have the possibility of achieving a balanced existence side by side.

These layers of association in the work are mostly suggested as potential image-spaces and contexts. Although, in a series of works, RR has worked with more explicitly symbolic materials as in combinations of dried opium-poppies and animal bones, which can be read in light of Nordic romanticism as references to dreams and reality, death, abandonment and transience. There is a melancholic dimension to the work that stands in conscious opposition to the current steam of images and image-networks by directing us to a different and more quite (a silent) room. The use of poppy-seeds comprises a re-humanizing of the otherwise abstract as the opium plant has been tied to the human body and the mind as medicine and drug for several thousand years. Since Romanticism, opium, as an euphoric drug, has served as a literary reference from Thomas De Quincey, Charles Baudelaire, S.T. Coleridge and Edgar Allan Poe up to William S. Burroughs; a means of dissolving the line between reality and fantasy.

Another foreign element in the new paintings is small cuts of hair, which are sprinkled across the surface and sealed in it by the paint. The individual hairs that can be gleaned here and there, add a bodily dimension to the paintings, which is usually removed from the largely formless space of monochromes. To the viewer’s gaze the hairs become a kind of pauses or resting-places, and, like the poppy-seeds, they have a symbolic function as open signs of intimacy, transience and the passage of time. The hair can also be associated with nature and the not fully civilized or controllable dimension, which falls outside of the rational.

Nature is not only present in the paintings as a reference, but also in a more physical sense in the recalcitrance of the materials and the opposition contained in the process of the work itself. In the paintings this opposition appears, for example, in the deposits and crackles that appear at the borders of the controllable, or in the dirt or the moths that have become stuck to the surface and were subsequently painted over. In the works on paper, the loss of control is present in drawings, which are dipped in water: through this encounter of the coal with the paper the image becomes increasingly uncontrollable. As the material of the works, dust – whether in the form of graphite, coal or sooth – generally has an evasive molecular movement in lieu of the attempts to give it a certain direction or transform it into an expression. 

RR’s images are usually vertically oriented, as steles or windows into a dark cosmos. There is also a discernible parallel to the upright, vertical posture of our bodies. Yet at the same time the images have a more directionless dimension, insofar as they can in principle be taken in from all sides. This is primarily due to their “all-over” appearance, lacking any unequivocal up or down, while the traces of hair, dirt, poppies etc. accent the horizontal. Still, the vertical aspect relates to our standing bodies, which assists in positioning the formless and non-human (from the infinite to nothingness) in a relation to the human sphere: from formlessness to formation and back to formlessness once more. The images have a fundamental openness towards chaos or infinity that is material and sensual at the same time. Perhaps, it is this overlap or confluence that also make them absorbing; they are anti-theatrical; not scenic surfaces, but image-spaces that one can be drawn into and be engulfed by in a kind of liberating “becoming-dark” or “becoming-invisible”.

One could perhaps say that RR’s paintings gives the abstract a body or an object-form; that they make the experience of the formless humane by articulating it as a form and by investing it with feelings, affects, and meanings that go beyond the merely formal. Today a renewed critique of anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism on behalf of the world of the objects themselves is taking place – among the philosophical movement of speculative realism as well as others. In RR’s works, and maybe in painting in general, there is rather a double movement, where the absence of humanity is presented both in its otherness, and yet it is, simultaneously, re-related to us, to the body, to our own temporality and impermanence. The idea of cosmos, the undifferentiated or the infinite is thus tied back to the viewer’s gaze and the body. As such, this is also a struggle against powerlessness and abstraction, against an alienating power, which cannot be governed; a way of making human activity, the work of the hands, connect with the abstract and formless, with what is traditionally referred to as “nature”. Perhaps, the monochrome abstract surface today is primarily the turned-off digital screen on IPhones and other similar devices. Thus the paintings also invoke these turned-off screens and tie them back to embodiment and human action – in a basic defense of sensibility and fragility.

RR’s paintings make the otherness and silent energy of the material visible, but always as fundamentally “informed” by human agency. The paintings are a material presence, which has been worked over and has become expressive. They are works in which formlessness and loss of relations are reinvested with bodily form and where we can meet a form of consciousness in the otherwise abstract realm that surrounds us: where abandonment and self-presence become intertwined.