Earthly lightness and heavenly weight

About the paintings by Elin Engelsen

At first sight Elin Engelsen is a classic naturalistic painter. However, you don’t have to look at her paintings for very long before you realize that she’s much more than that.

Just the scale of colours with the subdued palette of bluish green and grey nuances makes the paintings different from and more than just photographic reproductions. It brings the motives out of their usual context and into something unreal and surreal. This limited palette is known from Rembrandt and in a newer Danish context, Peter Martinsen. For the part of Elin Engelsen also from Nordic artists such as Ellen Thesleff, Kitty Kielland, Eilif Petersen and our own Vilhelm Hammershøi.

For the part of the motives, it’s obvious that Elin Engelsen’s interests go deeper than the superficial representation of reality. You can see three circles of motives in her pictorial world. The first one circles around rocks, water and the sky. Since the beginning of all times these three fundamental elements have been the essence of universe in the human imagination. Elin Engelsen paints even the smallest stone as a very present relic from the earliest times. In our busy world we have forgotten to appreciate this relic from a dark and mysterious past. Consequently she is also painting the cromlechs and other survivals from the prehistoric world of mankind that are often just interesting tourist attractions. But if we lost ourselves in them we would learn a great deal about ourselves. As to the water Elin Engelsen is always zooming in to even the smallest whirlpool. At one level she realistically paints the concentric circles in the water. But she is also using another figurative sense of the expression: Spreading like rings in the water. In her extreme close-ups of whirlpools you sense how the relentless power of the water is continuing out of the frame as a symbol of time rolling enervating on leaving both destruction and civilisation in its wake.

The human being is standing as the opposite to these two prehistoric elements: rock and water. Elin Engelsen is also operation with three circles of motives here. On the one hand we have the prehistoric human, (druid?) or priestess, shrouded in a mysterious and ritual light. On the other hand we have the rootless human of today struggling to find its place in a universe that it can no longer handle in an intuitive way. In a way it seems perfectly natural (Not only according to her surname!) Elin Engelsen no places a mediator between these two human extremities, the angel. However, it isn’t a sword swinging archangel or the airy, too cute angels from Christmas decorations. It’s angels in the shape of roguish and very earthly boys. The boys add a humorous and open dimension to the paintings because of their humour and catchy presence. They seem to be saying: “Don’t just stand there. It’s happening now!” Seen in this straightforward and down-to-earth context Elin Engelsen’s paintings become both robust and light. They are atmospheric paintings with an equal amount of body and spirit, ethereal lightness and earthly sober heaviness. In s t put you in the mood.

By Tom Jørgensen, editor of “Kunstavisen” (Newspaper of art)