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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Kurt Trampedach

Kurt Trampedach and his wife.
It's no doubt an open question as to the psychological importance of the artist's act of creation. As if the act itself were not subject to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of variables, it pales in comparison to the complex psychological mindset of the artist. The range might vary from extremely literal and well-grounded in reality to one barely subsisting on the fringe of lunacy. Likewise the creative effort could range from simply converting an image from one medium to another as in faithfully copying a color photo to an oil painting of the same size; all the way to one of abstract expressionism in which the total input to the artist's output comes totally from that artist's psyche. Those are, of course, extremes. Most artists work safely and productively well within such boundaries. As for myself, I can't imagine an existence in which I was not in some way creative on a daily basis, though I've found the content, methods, and media matter little. During the past several years, I've freely substituted literary output for my previous painting binges. I fine both psychologically satisfying; it just takes a thousand times more words than it did pictures.

Trampedach's self-portrait faces often have a Neanderthal quality.
A Trampedach baby picture.
The Danish painter and sculptor, Kurt Trampedach, like a great many artists (perhaps most artists), was introspective (as opposed to extrospective, I guess). As a result, we know little about the man's childhood except for what we can read through his art. We know he was born in 1943 in the midst of the German occupation, and grew up near Hillerød, Denmark (a little north of Copenhagen). Like nearly all Danish artists, young Trampedach studied at the Danish Academy of Fine Arts. He graduated in 1969. Unlike nearly all Danish artists, Trampedach's breakthrough came rather quickly. He began painting self-portraits, usually in the dark, earthen tones of Rembrandt, and usually in a highly distorted, highly personal, highly introspective manner. He also specialized in portraits of his wife (top), horses (bottom), and big-headed babies (right). With a repertoire like that, I guess you could say he was versatile.

Nadver Billede (Communion Picture), 1969, Kurt Trampedach
Trampedach cared little for the world outside his mind and still less for that outside his home. One look at his paintings such as Nadver Billede (Communion Picture, above), from 1969, and you come to realize you're looking into the mind of an Expressionist, but one who never fully adopted the typical, painterly style of Expressionism. Compositionally, the painting owes a modest debt to Leonardo, though colored as if by Rembrandt, yet distinctly modeled by Trampedach. With those two minimal exceptions, the world of Danish art readily came to realize they had an "original" in the midst. At the age of eighteen, the National Gallery of Art bought one of his first works. In the years that followed, most important Danish art galleries followed suit, acquiring both paintings and his sculptures. Trampedach's work was often compared to the figurative style of dark subject matter associated with the existential essence of life, and the Norse tradition of pictorial heritage of Rembrandt and Goya.
The Bus Stop, 1972-73, Kurt Trampedach
Walking Man, 1973, Kurt Trampedach
A more apt comparison, psychologically, might well have included van Gogh and Gauguin. Trampedach would have none of the traditional trappings which usually come with success in the world of art. He and his wife moved to the south of France...not the Riviera, but the southwestern Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains bordering Spain. They settled in the small town of Sare where Trampedach build a home and studio of native stone. He also maintained a studio in Copenhagen which was set on fire in 1983, burning many of his paintings. There were rumors Trampedach may have set the fire himself. The following year brought Trampedach back into the limelight again as the winner of Denmark's century-old Eckersberg Medal.

Morning, Kurt Trampedach
Kurt Trampedach, a face unknown
(by me at least), possibly his wife.
The thought of an artist burning his or her own studio to the ground, especially when doing so meant losing a substantial number of paintings, might seem farfetched. But nearly all his life Trampedach struggled with frequent bouts of depression and mania. Some who knew him might contend that only his art, and the mental regimen in creating it, kept Trampedach sane. In any case, when, in 2002, his home in France was also the victim of arson, the senseless act of wanton destruction drove him over the edge. He never painted again. Kurt Trampedach died suddenly of a heart attack in 2013 at the age of seventy.

A Trampedach horse, of course.


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