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Bleecker

Introduction


The body Doesn´t Lie

A conversation with Lars Calmar's sculptures

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Have you ever talked to a piece of art?
Lars Calmar's sculptures speak to the beholder to such an extent that one can not help but answer

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Imagine a sitting room. A quiet morning, the sun gently shining through one of the windows. You are standing on the doorstep, looking around, a bit drowsy.
Imagine the table, where, in a moment, you will eat breakfast. On the table rests a raw clay figure. It doesn't take up a lot of space; you would be able to carry it in your hands easily, if you picked it up.

You step into the room and suddenly your senses intensify. Your mind becomes clear. It feels as if someone is present and fills up the room quite close to you.

"Good morning!" a voice says.
(You think that you're probably not fully awake after all :) " …Excuse me?!…Yes…?"
"I was sitting here thinking about the conversation you and your friend had in this about aging. Vain talk. As if everything changes with the changes of the body. Why not just step into the age? Look at me. I do as I please."
"Hmm. Yes, you might be right there…"

This is how my first conversation with a piece of art began.
The episode is fresh in my memory, as I have never before experienced being spoken to as directly as by this sculpture.

Vanity and decline

At the time I had been looking for a present for a close friend, who reflected intensely over his upcoming birthday. Not about the birthday party itself, but about the balance between the rock of experience, built up over the years, and the self-centered appetite for life of the younger years.
He was very preoccupied with the question of age, and whether he now would have to let go of the lightness of youth and carry his years.

Vanity, which is so clearly mirrored in the perishable, the body's aging in contrast to the mental suppleness.

The owners at the Udengaard Gallery suggested that I give my friend one of Lars Calmar's sculptures. A raw clay figure. An old man, sitting with his legs bent, his body posture restful yet vigilant. Like an old warrior. Nude, with a potbelly, a round head

And an attitude giving the impression that he couldn't care less about what the surrounding world thinks of his nudity and excess weight.

He went straight to my gut with this spontaneous personality, and I burst into laughter. The sculpture provoked and appealed to me instantly, and I was not one second in doubt that it would provide my friend with new food for thought.
This was a piece that would insist on a dialogue. Perhaps even put us in our place.

Or as Lars Calmar puts it:
"The body doesn't lie. It tells what you want it to and what you'd rather conceal. And actually it isn't that bad. Because the truth sets us free."

The conversation

The old man with the transistor radio stood on my table for a couple of days, before he was to become a birthday present. Typical of Calmar's sculptures he took up more space than you would think at first. His grey body seemed much larger than the clay by itself, and it was as if one should keep at a bit of a distance and make room in front of him – for what his narrow and perhaps a little near-sighted eyes rested upon.

Shortly thereafter it occurred to me that it was my own intimate sphere that was the reason why I instinctively kept at distance of about half a meter from him. The old clay warrior simply broke into my personal space if I came too close.

During the following days the sculpture spoke so much to me and with me that it was almost like having a new person in the room, and our conversation became increasingly interesting. Until he was gift-wrapped in a lined box and given to my friend. If you cannot have the last word, you can conveniently pass it on.

The work with the clay

Sculptor Lars Calmar is born and lives on Langeland, a small island in the south of Denmark. In 1990 he received his degree as a potter here.

Langeland is an old island of ceramicists and although the larger workshops were closed during the 1980's and 1990's, when most of the ceramics production moved to the East, there is still a handful of small workshops on the island. The workshops survive by making and showing the unique, and this is certainly also the case for Lars Calmar.

Already early on he knew that his ambition was not to be turning teapots, but rather to model with man as a reference. And after a stay at the School of Art in Svendborg, he gradually started exhibiting in 1994.

The very thoroughly worked through figures, where the artist controls and dominates

the clay, are handed a challenge by the nature of the clay, its crackles and tones of color. Challenges and compliments between people and between objects and people are – along with exaggeration and contrasts – part of creating those unusual experiences in Lars Calmar's sculptures.

The figures are primarily modeled in stoneware clay. Afterwards various slips are applied, both stoneware and porcelain slips. Then it is time for the oxides to tint the clay, color a chair or create a tattoo.

Whether the figures are glazed or left standing in raw clay obviously creates very different expressions when the sculptures are finished. They are burnt at up to 1250 degrees Celsius.

Lars Calmar works in both large and small dimensions. The great richness of detail and Calmar's unique understanding of form means that one immediately gets under the skin of the figures – or rather: they get under your skin.

And when one is facing the larger works, weighing 5-600 kilograms, it insists with such power that one immediately has to take it in or push it away.

Human nature

Lars Calmar's works are inspired by the classic figurative art, dating back to the Greek Gods and before. But in Calmar's art rein no Gods; on the contrary it is dominated by that of being human, also in the physical sense.

Rather than the classical body of a God, fat, wrinkles, sinew and muscles dominate the figures and show one of the premises we as humans live under: Time.

Our human nature and identity are a central element in Calmar's works. Not only are we in nature, we are nature.
The body is our nature, our instincts, sexuality, ideas and power.

With both humor and profound seriousness Lars Calmar dives into the human body and soul. He contains what being human is and passes it on in his humans created of clay. The beholder experiences love and respect for the human being. They are undressed to the bones, and – fearlessly - the body tells its own story.

Versus human culture

The figures are often paired with a cultural object, for example the small transistor radio. Or cups, a piece of furniture, a gun, a tool. These objects put the figures in the world of civilization, where the caste system of the culture surely will put the body and nature in their places.
The cultural objects provide the immediate impression for the beholder: Here is a worker, a boxer, an old man ready for the nursing home. The body is quickly put into

boxes – the boxes of society and culture.

"It is not often that man is in his pure nature; that we give in to the precision which resides in our instincts," says Lars Calmar.

When the figures communicate with us – and "speak" as clearly as they do – it often happens with the juxtaposition of civilization and nature that the sculpture presents us with, as a starting point. But while nature is a condition, we all live under, civilization provides a sense of framework and control because it can be ruled. This is where the interaction and dialogue between work and beholder arises.

At times the juxtaposition of to the two elements takes the effect of an amplified echo, at other times of a striking contrast. A naked, old man in a red sofa. A stocky biker with his feet solidly planted in the cushion of a designer armchair.

"We create a culture very quickly. Like the bikers, who refuse to live under the culture of society, but want to be free. Yet they create a new culture with the speed of lightening, which begins to control them. Thus the sculptures of bikers in chairs become civilization/culture, and the sculpture of the old man in a red sofa is nature/culture. Viewed this way, the old, naked body shows the purity of being the nature that it is. And not putting oneself on a ladder of society or a self-created ladder," Lars Calmar says.

The joy of recognition

The bodies of some of Lars Calmar's figures are decorated with what is simultaneously nature and culture, namely tattoos.

"The old men, who have taken off their clothes and show their tattoos, symbolically take the whole caste system of the culture and stand plain and pure in their nature. Here the tattoos take the effect of symbols of nature and also a supernatural world, which literally lies right under the skin", says Lars Calmar.

"At the same time the whole thing seems quite like any normal day. And everyday life, recognizing ourselves and the closeness, which recognition is, makes the sculptures very straightforward."

In some case the recognition means that the figures can appear unusually tactless. This might scare some, yet the doubleness and the humor is bubbling, and one is inclined to go with the figures rather than against them.

Nearness and the modern taboo

Altogether nearness is a great part of Lars Calmar's expression. To get close to oneself and thereby close to the rest of us.

"The clay contains nearness in itself. It doesn't cost very much. Most people have played with clay or play dough when they were children. It is literally down to earth and at the same time anything is possible with clay. It opens possibilities," says Lars Calmar.

A special nearness appears in the sculptures of lovemaking elderly couples. They let sexuality flow, they stand by it, and nature controls and expresses an intensity which is very far from pornography's focus on the external.

Here Calmar breaks from a modern taboo: The limitations put on the sexuality of the elderly by our culture. Normally we have a superficial and unspoken consensus that an elderly couple hand in hand is a sweet and moving expression of love, yet the sexual game and fascination belongs to younger bodies.
Calmar's lovemaking couples tell us that vitality is not only connected to youth. And we are not talked down to, for there is nothing extreme or repulsive about the lustful elders. A breast swells, the plump belly is happy and the faces express a natural desire rather than the phony and theatrical pleasure we know from culture.

The lovemaking elders remind us that beauty is found in more places, than we normally limit it to. They inspire us to break down boundaries and open up to the world.

The naked truth

Calmar finds a specific example of openness in the sculpture of a woman on a Moroccan ottoman. He describes her like this:

"A very old lady, who does not hide anything, yet she is like a flower in a field, completely naked, vulnerable and open, waiting for her prince. As the old Indian religious proverb says: "We are all women, there is only one man", she shows true femininity. Where the boxer shows what we understand as classic courage, the courage of the woman on the Moroccan ottoman is no less. She assumes a completely open position without defense mechanisms."

"In his own way the boxer also brings nakedness with him into the ring," Calmar adds, "although the boxer paradoxically is the only figure wearing clothes. In the ring he is watched by the spectators, who see what he has to offer: strength and the ability to survey the situation. Or does he become anxious? The body doesn't lie."

A new conversation

Several years after my first conversation – with Calmar's old man with the transistor radio, who once stood in my sitting room – I received an e-mail from my old friend, to whom I had given the sculpture for his birthday.

My friend had gotten yet another Calmar-sculpture, and he wanted to tell me about the moment the sculpture had been unwrapped before the eyes of his young son. The boy had thought that the sculpture had looked like King Neptune at the shrink, and wondered what was talked about on the couch the king was lying on? … And this way the story continued, with imaginative and almost unruly reflections.

Yet another Calmar-sculpture had come to life. A new conversation had begun.

Credits

Text by Eva Rymann Hansen



The artist

Think What You Want, See What You Can, Tell Yourself the Rest

"God, it is the Lord himself!" exclaimed my inner voice, when Lars Calmar used a steel wire to whisk off the head of a life-size figure. Or Robespierre! Things only got worse when the artist, after elongating the neck with a coil of clay, set the head into place again. Like some heavenly creator (or bloody tyrant), he stood in his studio and reigned absolutely over his newborn old ones.
"God, it is the Lord himself!" exclaimed my inner voice, when Lars Calmar used a steel wire to whisk off the head of a life-size figure. Or Robespierre! Things only got worse when the artist, after elongating the neck with a coil of clay, set the head into place again. Like some heavenly creator (or bloody tyrant), he stood in his studio and reigned absolutely over his newborn old ones.

His people come into being piece by piece. Perhaps it was very lucky that Lars had not yet attached arms to his plump old fellow. If I had been the oldster, I would have defended myself, struck out against my Almighty Lord and landed a few blows. Maybe I would have taken him in a chokehold. Let it be understood that I'd had enough: off with the head, on again, look right, look left!
But what about a kick to that certain place? Lars had taken this into account. When the lower parts are completed, he dries them with a gas flame. Thus the legs harden. They can now remain upright—and are at the same time locked in place!
A bit further into the studio kneels a boxer. His mouth is agape. The mouth guard is still in place. His silent scream, of jubilation or pain, penetrates the viewer. The boxer has gloves on. Has he fallen on his knees after a round of punches from Muhammad Ali, or has he sent his opponent to the mat with a jaw-breaking knockout, and has gone down on his knees in the ring, thankful for victory?
If this powerhouse had not long ago been treated with the gas flame, who knows what would have befallen the master from Langeland…
Lars Calmar creates and challenges the figures that stream out of his head, first as images, which are then created in clay, formed by hand. They are so lifelike that they lack only the breath that gives them souls and brings them to life. Initially, Pinocchio was also just a piece of cherry wood.
Lars does not name his people (let us affirm that we can only conceive of them as dramatic personages), but neither is this necessary. We can call them "us"—us as elderly. Wrinkled and paunchy men with drooping buttocks; women, where everything sags. Us or everyone—all of us. It becomes clear that the artist doesn't just challenge his creations. He challenges all of us—we who are they.
Like Our Lord (or a revolution's dictator), he must have become angry. Angry at everything and everyone. So angry, that revenge started rolling in on an enormous thundercloud. Lars will surely never admit this. On the deepest level it's nobody's business. Nevertheless, when artists reveal themselves, they do so in their art, their works. If we are to take him seriously, we must be allowed to search for motives, guess at intentions, glimpse his objective.

So much more so when we are dealing with an artist who stresses our freedom to see and comprehend his work as we wish (or can). He himself says that he does not wish to direct our gaze, and won't force an interpretation upon us. His narrative is open.

But revenge for what, and against whom? The latter is obvious—revenge against us, against humans, humanity, or perhaps a single human. Otherwise it becomes unfathomable that a young, attractive artist (re)creates people in this way—ugly and grotesque, ridiculous in their thin-skinned decay, their corporeal helplessness, one foot in the grave. Can one expose fellow humans in this manner without an accompanying triumphant cry: "See how horrible you are, disgusting, degenerate wretches, saggy monsters with floppy bellies and flabby thighs, weak heroes, monstrous hags…"? Right? This is exactly how one exposes them. One revenges oneself.
But in the space of time it takes me to think this way, there is room for the beginnings of doubt. It can't be right, this thing about revenge. To hate so profoundly, for so long, to let one's hate smoulder, to ride wildly on it as if on inspiration's rocking horse, to torture oneself and one's creator-hands with pure lust for revenge, to slap clay together into a never-ending vendetta against humankind—no, this can (must) not be.
My vague, waking doubt begins to search for nourishment, meaning. Just look at the artist's small erotic couple, still old, fat, and fairly repulsive, but in the midst of lovemaking! OK, Lars Calmar is too young to know that after a certain age, this doesn't happen. But this is a physiological fact, which he either overlooks or simply refuses to accept. His old people screw face to face and from behind, standing or lying—every which way—they fuck till they drop. Moreover, the genitals on these rough drafts of clay must be whitewashed and glazed, emphasised. One is reminded of the feminist battle cry "Keep your dick clean!", from once upon a time in the 70s.
All talk of revenge as the artistic driving force now begins to quietly evaporate. Is he just kidding? Or is he letting us in on his dream? The dream of life that is eternal, or at least longer than we think. The old ones make love lustily, like Etruscan grave figures that awaken and begin anew. It is quite comic, moving actually. In other words, human. Bodily decay is no hindrance. We can (and must) play along till the end. This suddenly seems to be the most beautiful optimism. One begins to see the aged bodies in a new way. Lars has caught us, for art is always a trap, just like theatre's drama. First we have to make a detour, seduced by our own worn prejudices and ways of thinking. Thereafter discover, aha! See and realise, change our gaze, be surprised, become new, as if purified.
A couple of the revolting oldsters beget cupids. They stand before the pensioner parents, born of a trembling embrace that has yet to end. Another couple give birth to tin soldiers made of white porcelain. This type of banal porcelain figure is found in every florist shop. The grotesque elderly are utterly normal, after all! They give birth to us; they are, and become, us.
We've just arrived from France, when we encounter Lars Calmar's cast of characters at his studio in Humble on the island of Langeland. The island's legendary king of the same name was perhaps anything but humble, but we grow more and more so here. The sculptures are us, down to the smallest detail. Their surfaces crack, just as ours do. With time. They are hollow, as we can be, empty behind our facades, behind our self-confidence.
The spectator humbly confesses that the naked truth makes its way through the resistant mind. The Calmarian clay beings draw us into a form of self-recognition. This is what humans become with time—or against time, rather. The unvarnished truth and the end of the journey—death up ahead, which is already at work on us. Death that is found along the way, the whole way, yes, maybe is the way. Which paradoxically is life.
Thus Lars Calmar cut off our heads, and at the same time extended our slender hope of remaining a kind of human, a little longer.


From a visit to the artist´s studio in Humble, Langeland, July 2017

Exchibitions

 

2011

Galleri Thomassen,Goteborg, seperat udstilling
Kunstmesse Herning

2010

Grimmerhus Keamikmuseum,Middelfart
Kunstmesse Herning
Sofa,New York
SAK kunstbygning, Svendborg
Sofa,Santa Fe
Art Copenhagen, Forum
Toronto International Art Fair,Toronto
Sofa Chicago

2009

Kunstmesse Herning
Sofa ,New York
Kunstmesse,Stokholm
Toronto International Art fair,Toronto
Sofa,ChicagoWesterwalder Keramikmuseum,Germany

2008

Kunstmesse, Herning
Kunstmesse, Stockholm
Frederikshavn Kunstmuseum
SOFA, New York
Art Santa Fe
Art Copenhagen, Forum
SOFA, Chicago
Grand Opening, Gallerie Wolfsen, Aalborg

2007

Kunstmesse, Stockholm
SOFA, New York
Contemporary Ceramics, Gallerie Wolfsen, Aalborg
SOFA, Chicago
Toronto International Art Fair, Toronto

2006

Kunstmesse, Stockholm
Galleri Rasmus, Kolding
Art Copenhagen, Forum
Kunstmesse, Herning

2005

Art Copenhagen, Forum
Kunstmesse, Herning
Gallerie Wolfsen, Aalborg
Art Copenhagen, Forum
"De hedder alle sammen Lars", S.A.K. Svendborg
Kunstmesse, Herning
Art Copenhagen, Forum

2004

Art Copenhagen, Forum
Kunstmesse, Herning
Galerie Wolfsen, Aalborg

2003

Galleri Rasmus, Odense
Galleri Rasmus, Copenhagen
Kunstmesse, Herning

2002

Kunstmesse, Herning
Galleri Rasmus, Copenhagen
Art Copenhagen, Forum
Baal, S.A.K., Svendborg
Bousøgaard, Stauring

 

Decorations, Sold and other

 

Decorations

Langelands Bibliotek
Danahus Plejecenter
Fredericia Gymnasium
Udsmykning af kunsttårn på kunsttårnruten Langeland

Sold to

Prisvindende "Solar Fund travel grant"
Modtaget "The fountainhead studios stay", Miami

Other

Prisvindende "Solar Fund travel grant"
Modtaget "The fountainhead studios stay", Miami


 

Contact

 




Email: larscalmar@yahoo.dk