Denmark. On the Sunday we travelled to my friend’s Jamie and Mette Wallace who live in Naerum a suburb of Copenhagen. Jamie is a painter who I studied alongside on my MA in Fine Art in Norwich all of seventeen years ago (that just sounds wrong!), and Mette, his Danish wife, is a glass and ceramicist. All three of us studied our BA (Hons) courses in Sunderland too, and even lived in the same street, but did not know each other then.We were pretty close during the year at Norwich, and I fondly remember evenings at their place talking into the night and all being rather poverty stricken, but we went our separate ways at the end of the course: me to Yorkshire and then Edinburgh, and they eventually to Denmark. We hadn’t met since then but as we greeted each other on the Sunday time just collapsed and it was great to be back in their very easy-going and pleasurable company. It was like slipping on a pair of the most comfortable shoes, so different to our time in Norway. Last time they only had Lewis, who was just fouryears old then, now they had Olly, Tulleeh, and Sookey too!
Jamie had recently completed a PHD which had brought his previous experience as an engineer together with his painting and interest in materials and how we use them in our everyday lives. He was now working as a lecturer at The Danish University for Education. His PHD studies had been entirely funded by the state, with a grant thrown in. Lewis was also now at University with a maintenance grant to support him, not a future millstone of at least £30,000 worth of debt to look forward to like students in the UK. I think, and would certainly encourage, more students from the UK will look overseas for their education. I already have students asking me about these opportunities this year. Mette was working for a well-known Danish ceramicist, producing work from her designs, which she both found frustrating but also glad to be using her very gifted skills as a maker. She is very versatile and always has something of her own on the go.
Their house in Naerum was a big renovation project of its own which they were busy working on. Jamie had recently built a new chimney on the roof, and they had made a workroom for themselves which had some brilliant reclaimed double doors from a hospital. These opened into a music room for Olly, who is an extremely gifted saxophone player. At just 16 he had recently started at a very prestigious music academy that only accepts 10 students a year, with most students usually in their twenties. Olly played regularly in the world famous Tivoli Gardens Brass Band, but also frequented the jazz clubs of Copenhagen and regularly played at open sessions alongside veterans from the city’s thriving scene. To say he was driven is putting it mildly. He was very inspiring. He also knew a bit about Dylan too which I think is important in anyone’s musical education!
Later in the week, Jamie and I spent a great day together painting and drawing on location in the woods nearby. Vast in scale, and leading to the Royal Deer Park at Klampenborg, the woods were a great place to work, but also to walk and talk, which we did a lot of of; catching up with our respective lives, but also talking about painting, which we both enjoyed. When it came to trying to do some painting later I found it very hard to settle and work. Perhaps there was too much to see and take in. I made a couple of pieces, one which was heavily laboured over as I just wrestled to try and wring some life out of it, and another which I was happier with where I cleared my head a little and thought of Cezanne: building up colour next to colour, tone next to tone, and shape next to shape until something emerged. Away over the spot we were worked, Jamie was under a tree making some beautiful and unusual drawings of the area. It was interesting to note that Jamie had, like me, become very inspired in working from direct observation over the years, despite his previous passion for abstraction. He enjoyed and appreciated the struggle more in my first painting (above).
In the evening, we all came together again at the house in Naerum and ate and drank wine out in the garden, talking until late before bidding farewell, and promising not to make it so long between visits next time! Jamie also kindly gave me one of the drawings he had made that day, as thanks for the day and the inspiration we had both found out in the woods. I’m so pleased with it. The two days we had spent with them felt like it had been real soul food for me, and was my personal highlight of the whole trip.
Klampenborg drawing, Jamie Wallace