Jens Ulrich Petersen: The Tragic Comedy of Life.
JUP once said to me, “When painting, I do not make pictures, I tell stories.” Indeed, when contemplated, this distinctly appears as the painterly project of the artist because his paintings often seem to be reduced to sheer story telling. The players have fallen in, but the stage is empty, and only the merest props are present. The stories that the paintings are telling us appear wily, even humorous but at the same time serious, even absurd, the tragicomedy of Life being central.
The high or low line of horizon is one of the visually exciting traits of JUP’s paintings. On a background dominated by one single colour, a figure will be observed in the – for the artist characteristic – point of intersection at the periphery of the painting. Often his paintings are playing with extreme perspectives, noted, for instance, by the presence in a street of either purposeful or else aimlessly meandering pedestrians seen, for instance, from above, throwing long, dramatic shadows behind them, resulting in beautiful compositions on the canvas.
One recurring theme in JUPs paintings, especially worth pointing out, is loneliness. Loneliness at home, in the throng of the city, at old age. A touch of sincerity underlines the feeling of emptiness, as expressed by rows upon endless rows of empty windows in a block of flats – the monotony of which is broken by one individual poking her/his head out from his/her apartment, accentuating the absence of other eventual tenants. Likewise the single person in a double bed cries out a freezing absence. Even people seem to be isolated as they, face averted, pass by one another or move along in a serialized bee-line. Another element conspicuously absent from nearly all that emanates from the artist’s hand, is Nature. What we see is culture in simple form – until we realize that Nature is creeping in as culture is decaying. Loneliness, too, appears in the shape of abandoned buildings: Man-made structures devoid of human presence are strikingly fascinating.
In this context the large, all absorbing colour-expanses again signal emptiness – a vacuum ready to be filled in which underlines the atmosphere of expectation or resignation characterizing many of JUP’s paintings. Occupying the center of the work the colour area or a mosaic pattern often acquire a meditative character, getting charged with relevance.
For the time being the artist is especially preoccupied by the conditions of prostitutes and the homeless, and these pariahs of the society are populating the world of his recent motifs. In his thematic range Faces of a City subjects from the gallery of rootless characters enter the stage, being, however, more or less superseded by purely aesthetic patterns, for instance by the shadows on the street, thrown by anonymous pedestrians. The aesthetic and the social-realistic aspect may, however, be found inside the same frame, when, for example, a vagabond is seen sleeping on the hard bed of cobblestones paradoxically forming a delicate mosaic, thereby stealing the attention from the sleeping figure and the harshness of the situation. Here we see JUP at his best when the aesthetic form and social realistic substance merge, competing for the spectator’s attention.