Sold - 150cm x 115cm, Canvas, 2007

JOHN WÜRTZ - A MODERNIST PAINTER

We come upon him in his studio, an artist intense on producing large, colourful, harmonious and abstract paintings. This process has lasted for a period spanning almost a generation and has had the effect of providing the artist with an exceptionally serene and a highly unique language of form and colour.

As a painter John Würtz is expert at capturing a feeling or a mood, created by sun light or by the interiors surrounding him. In this way he binds together fantasy, history and reality into powerful, optimistic pictures that display a strong choice of colour and a strong choice of colour combinations.

John Würtz’s paintings thus become genuine representations of basic existential conditions in the civilization in which he lives, and they turn into an art that seems at one and the same time to appeal to and pinpoint the actual meaning of life for the observer. The study of sunlight is decisive for John Würtz. Light, in his opinion, must play the crucial role in the painting. The subject matter and the story behind the picture come second. And because sunlight is such a determining factor in his art, the study of nature becomes important, too. Würtz carries out precise studies, precise observations of nature, whether it be from the limited perspective of his study or by getting out there and setting up his easel. Light is necessarily a forceful presence that allows Würtz to work intensely with the combining and reproducing of colour.
We are here dealing with a painter whose starting point is life, optics and who, with subtle variations and creativity, captures the fundamental issues of a modern society.

JOHN WÜRTZ’S ARTISTIC STARTING POINT

With Würtz we are back with an elitist concept of art – art is something special. It is a combination of artistic materials and history processed together by the artist, and as a result it turns into something sublime, into something that demands active participation from the observer. His paintings, intricate and crammed with subject matter, are the result of a process where work on one canvas is never interrupted by work on the next. The current painting needs to be completed. Würtz makes no concession to the phenomena of mass culture. Instead his choice of subject confronts the observer with themes that contain elements of decline. Is this the decline of civilization or that of nature? Is it life as we live it nowadays that eats away at its own foundations or is it a reference directed inwardly – to the human psyche, appealing for reserves of strength and readiness for positive action?

Another elitist element in his work is the fact that John Würtz considers himself an exponent of the following idea: First and foremost I am myself - I do not need to act as a cultural ambassador on behalf of my society. Instead I need to make my own choices, set the course for my own existence, I need to recognise myself in the pictures I make. When it comes to it, I paint for my own pleasure and for myself. I have to achieve the clarity in my choice of colour, and I have to achieve the colour constellations that will provide an insight into the world of light. It is light – the light of life – that drives me. Furthermore, when you work with the ephemeral in life, you also work with what might be permanent, with what endures. Würtz seems here to be pointing to art and to what art produces. The paintings give to others the same possibilities that he himself experiences. Art can be the catapult that launches you into a new existence with all the prerequisites for an improved quality of life. When you favour strong feeling, you also favour an existence characterised by great depth and intensity.
The artistic effects used by John Würtz are, at one and the same time, extremely complex and very simple. His paintings are composed by adding layer upon layer of colour in an attempt to achieve the exact colour, or colours, that will enhance and set off the light. It is almost like being next to a big blue sea. Light that appears here is refracted again and again – the mirror of the water sends the light, which is already strong, on yet another spin, this time upwards, so that it reaches maximum exposure. In his paintings John Würtz works very much with colours. As already mentioned, he adds layer upon layer until the combinations feels right and allows for the strongest set-off possible. It is an artistic process that cannot be interrupted until it has been completed. Consequently John Würtz works on only one painting at a time. He feels that it is impossible to give the picture the required intensity end depth if you stop, if you do not work constantly at refining and developing the painting, artistically as well as technically. The total sum of the artist’s energy is, as it were, “parked” here, concentrated here. And as a human being, as well as an artist, he is engaged in a continual building process intimately related to the demands made by the work of art.
In this extremely original process something new is created, something unique, and if this does not happen, the artist will inevitably be aware of it and have to start all over again. For the creative process to take place it is an absolute condition that the artist possesses the means necessary to bring about an encounter with his inner self. He will need to come face to face with his various qualifications and his experiences, as well as his powers of assessment, and in so doing create for himself the best possible conditions for a process that, just as in science, invites new cognition and new learning.

CENTRAL START POINTS FOR JOHN WÜRTZ’S PAINTING

John Würtz wishes to leave traces – for himself and for others. If the paintings convey an experience of the noble and the sublime, they will also cause the person who observes the picture to experience a feeling of “soaring” in space. If the paintings show something monumental, new and positive possibilities for Würtz and his public will be the result. The monumental carries with it the implicit understanding that existence is compatible with reflection, creativity and creative zest in ways that challenge and stimulate both practical, creative skills and the activity of thought.
The painting can take the audience from one place to a different and more meaningful starting point, which is more spacious, richer and has much stronger values. In this way it is also possible to argue that Würtz is always working with the concept of art itself, constantly working to define the role of art in modern society. He tries to render probable the necessity for art, although this might be a reality reserved for only for the few.
Another of John Würtz’s starting points is his insistence on originality. He refuses to compromise in this respect and, as a consequence, his paintings change in various ways. Each painting has a unique composition, a unique choice of subject, unique colours. Each painting has to be completed before he feels able to begin a new one.
John Würtz’s modernist painting possesses its own artistic idiom. Most often the pictures are characterised by rectangular shapes and one wonders whether this is an expression of the fact that the artist views his life, or modern life, as a hemmed in by limitations – by possible obstacles. At the same time, however, his composition is mostly very harmonious, its focus being the centre of the painting itself. In this way Würtz uses his idiom and his imagery to point to balance, to silence, to the weight of the conscious. In the composition one element balances the other, but the composition also creates a space to which one is drawn, that invites one in, and where certain fundamental aspects of life are emphasized, such as the need for honesty, the importance of possessing personal integrity and the imperative of starting out from a clear set of premises. As a consequence both optimism and the scenario of the future become major elements dominating Würtz’s work. The composition must point to vision, to a system of optics that underline the importance of being able to see oneself raised above ones immediate surroundings looking out into a mega landscape.

JOHN WÜRTZ’S ARTISTIC INSPIRATION

‘Inspiration is where I am’, says the artist. ‘It appears in the middle of a landscape or in the middle of town, in the centre of Venice, if that is where I happen to be walking. And it comes when the artist registers what is happening in his close surroundings. Light might be moving on the wall, the transitory nature of the buildings might become apparent to him. And these impressions join up to emphasize the phenomena that represent life, represent the fundamental forces of existence. And this is where the artist can find his jumping-off point, find the basis for paintings that send out signals of silence, balance and feeling.
A particular mountainside in Spain becomes the artist’s studio and here, too, small changes may give rise to new inspiration. And, as in the studio, the process starts with the single picture on a “white” background. The initial strokes of paint, the first applications of colour will be indicative of the direction the picture will take. Together with the sources of inspiration in the previous paintings and his awareness of his immediate surroundings, it will be an indication of what forms a joint take-off point for the creative process.
In Spain Würtz uses different materials – he works with paper here. Of course, the advantage of the big studio in the open is that nothing here will block the artist’s contact with the light and the sun.
In the studio at home the work process is in the nature of a huge painting project. The artist applies the colours on a scale and to an extent which means that he now and again needs to use his palette knife, means that he has to discard something and add something. The very fact that the canvas in itself is a source of inspiration becomes his reason for exploiting the colours to such an extent that they become a filter for the highly evocative picture. The first colours on the canvas add structure to the painting and trigger the next step, whereupon they act as common take-off point for subject, colours and shapes. John Würtz does not care for the painting to contain a story. If, in the world of art, one desires to tell actual stories, he points to literature as being the more suitable medium.

SELF-CRITICISM

Self-criticism takes the artist several steps forward and is part of the reason why Würtz is himself in rapid development. In this process he makes conscious use of the possibilities of both leaving the painting and returning to it, conscious use of the possibilities of considering the nature of the work process with regard to the painting in question. With each work of art he reaches the point where he wants to be – the point where the picture can stand on its own, and where he as an artist can feel certain of its quality. That which at the beginning of the process was only one starting point of many, e.g. that the new painting should at least compare favourably with the preceding one, becomes a kind of learning process that enriches and expands the artist’s sensory apparatus.

JOHN WÜRTZ’S GRAND TOUR - FROM 17-YEAR-OLD JOURNEYMAN TO PAINTER WITH LARGE AUTONOMOUS SPACE

John Würtz was born in Copenhagen and there was little to suggest then that he would end up an acknowledged and extremely talented painter. Würtz left school and attended technical school, where he trained as a painter/decorator. However, it was art and the making of art that attracted him, and during his time as an apprentice the master painter fulfilled his greatest wish and gave him an easel, oil paints and brushes for his birthday. That was the start of his journey towards life as an artist. As was only natural he started out copying the works of the great masters: Van Gogh’s painting of the café in Toulouse served as his first starting point. His apprenticeship included obligatory periods of school attendance and he would take the opportunity to seize his easel and his brushes. Three fellow pupils of his year did the same thing. On one occasion Würtz experienced how his delight in colours could provoke and cause excitement. The teacher, who incidentally acted as an invigilator at the Charlottenborg painting exhibitions, summoned the class at one point and announced very seriously that yellow and purple should not and could not go together. This was just after he had carried out the assignment of painting a billboard using those exact colours. Afterwards Würtz was known as Mr. Yellow and Purple. It was after this episode that Würtz felt an even stronger urge to follow an artistic career.

Having completed his vocational training John Würtz took a studio in Nyhavn with a fellow painter, Alfred Harry Liliendahl, born 1909. Alfred was a talented artist – a member of the Cobra group and one of the artists who took an active share in the execution of the painting, COBRA – the ceiling to be found at Sophienholm. He shared in the work with Asger Jorn and other established artists. Liliendahl, however, was also destitute, a fact that caused John Würtz considerable worry as to what the future as an artist might bring in the way of financial worries. He often witnessed Liliendahl returning to a completely empty kitchen and having to face the evening with nothing to eat, at all – hot water with salt made up that night’s soup. The shared studio, however, meant that Würtz had excellent working conditions and he could now begin to experiment. All kinds of pictorial art, all genres were tested in this process which Würtz carried out for himself and with himself. The money he had was insufficient to take him to art school, but his energy, zest and talent sufficed for a journey on which Würtz’s artistic and technical skills were growing all the time. After eight years of experimenting he had a special debutant exhibition at Den Fries Udstillingsbygning (The Free Exhibition Building) in Copenhagen in 1977. Würtz made a name for himself with this exhibition, and as an artist he now found himself working from a vantage point. His paintings in this first exhibition had an air of surrealist art. As a self-taught artist the years of his formation included trips to foreign art institutes, a number of visits to museums and participation in a series of exhibitions.
Consequently, already at his first exhibition John Würtz was an experienced artist. When his studio burnt down, Würtz had to move to a studio in Bolten’s Gård and he now came to live next door to the Academy of Art. He stayed here until his relationship with another gifted artist, Jane Morten, took him to Slagelse.
A prolific artist John Würtz reached the turning point in his career in 1986 when he won a competition, competing with other painters, at a famous exhibition in Monaco. The biggest name in the panel was Cezar. Since
then a permanent association with galleries in Denmark and Sweden has meant that John Würtz has been able to sell his paintings. This connection has also meant easy access to exhibitions. In Sweden, for instance, John Würtz has exhibited in Stockholm, Malmö and at the Art Museum in Höganäs, just to mention some of the major exhibition centres in Sweden. As shown above Würtz finds his main inspiration in light and in his immediate surroundings, but in his formation as a self-taught artist he came to set great store by painters such as JM. V. Turner, Hazelwood and Giacometti. It was Turner’s use of light, together with his capacity to paint sublime landscape pictures that attracted him. Above all he was fascinated by the paintings from Venice with their grand and evocative depictions of urban space.

But for John Würtz the most important thing has always been to achieve a unique style, a unique idiom that would allow his personal artistic expression fully to emerge.

Ellen Bastholm, Art critic