A recent visit to Denmark where I was staying at Doverodde up on the Limsfjord close to the north west coast in Jutland led to weeks spent exploring the area through walking and drawing. The skies are enormous, sand dunes are as high as cliffs and spread for miles like moorland, sunsets are big and although this may sound rather sentimental the light is simply beautiful, dramatic sometimes and part of a Danish painting tradition.
During my visit I drove up to the northernmost tip of Denmark to stay at Skagen and walk to the point where two seas, the North Sea and the Kattegat Sea, meet at Grenen. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Denmark and was busy with people walking the beach to the tip on an early Sunday morning.
Here I discovered the Skagen artists including Anna Ancher whose paintings when using light as the focus capture its ephemeral nature. She herself was born and lived in Skagen and became a member of the renowned Skagen artists community active during the late nineteenth century. To this group of artists eating and drinking together was a way of gathering socially reinforcing their artistic union.
There are many other Scandinavian artists who have painted light, including for example, the light of interiors in the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi. It is also interesting to see light as a key element in the work of contemporary artists such as the Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson whose “Weather Project” in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern also attracted large numbers of people.
For me, growing up in Norway, nature was a backdrop you appreciated but maybe took for granted. Whether as a Scandinavian you lived in an urban environment or rurally, nature surrounds you. The vast expanses give you space and can feel both endless and near. There is a marked difference between each season; this is very much reflected in the changing light. In the summer, days can seem without end. I grew up in the countryside and in the summers would wake up early, if I was lucky, to bright sunshine and the sounds of birds and animals starting their day. Whether by the sea, walking in the mountains or in the countryside, the smells of flowers and plants in full bloom on a warm sunny day are still vivid to me and I long to experience this smell every summer. In the north of Norway the midnight sun leaves the sky almost bluish white with the sun as a golden circle. Then when autumn comes the crisp cold clear air acts as a backdrop for trees in vivid techno colour. The nights draw in so light and heat are sought from a wood burner or candles. In the winter, the long dark days envelop nature. Indoor life is cherished, often accompanied with good food and the company of others. Oh yes, it does rain in Norway, and the summers are not filled with sunny days. But it is the light sunny days or the crisp clear blue sky of an autumn or winter day that you keep in your memory.
Anne Laila Kvitvang