Third floor, two fire-doors and there it is: the temporary studio of Rasmus Nilausen - this summer, right in the middle of London, just across Tate Britain. The danish painter is incredibly thoughtful and charming - and he is in search of the perfect masterpiece that he is just about to make. Rasmus is not spiritual, but he loves the idea of chance transforming his work into something that he cannot control anymore. His paintings are full of curiosity and they invite into a universe of incomprehensible spaces and impossible structures. I spend an afternoon in Rasmus' treasure room, chatting about rap-music, masterpieces and diamonds. Even though he now moved back to his adopted home Barcelona, some of his paintings remained in the British capital to be exhibited in the New Contemporaries - Show at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Rasmus, you have changed location quite often in your life: You were born and raised in a little town close to Copenhagen, then you moved to Barcelona, where studied at the art academy. You graduated a Master in Fine Art in London and now you move back to Barcelona. In all this time, when did you figure out that you wanted to be an artist?
When I was six years old, I started doing graffiti with markers. I copied images from graffiti magazines onto my bedroom wall and later on, I did comics and graffiti. First when I was around 19, I started painting with brushes. At first I got a bit annoyed by it, because it was so slow compared to spray paint or to the immediacy of drawing.
Did you ever have a plan-b, in case you wouldn’t be an artist?
As a teenager I thought I would become a journalist or a writer. Writing is still important for me, because it helps me to explain processes. Sometimes it is easier to write about an issue, than showing it in an exhibition. When I write, it’s more of a story on its own – it helps me to step a bit away from painting and to reflect on it.
Do you write poetry?
No, not really. When I was a teenager I thought I was talented in writing lyrics. My friends and I had a rap group called “The Cuckoo’s nest”, but eventually we stopped when we realised that we were not that good after all.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished “The invisible Masterpiece” by Hans Belting. The book analyses the history of the masterpiece - it compares the notion of the art piece as something absolute or to art as something tangible. Belting's book is actually based on Honore de Balzac’s novel "The Unknown Masterpiece".
Do you think that something like a masterpiece exists?
It exists as a myth. For me, a masterpiece implies continuation. The more I finish a painting - polish it - the more doors I close. Possibilities vanish. The perfect painting is always the one that I am about to paint – the next one. That’s what keeps me enthusiastic about my work.
How would you describe your working routine?
It takes me quite a long time to figure out what I want to paint. But once I know it, I try to finish a work within a day if possible. It’s almost like a sexual act, because in this short time there is so much enthusiasm involved – finishing it, while the idea is still fresh. But recently I have been overworking some older paintings, provoking coincidences and unexpected thing to happen.
The work “The Rapeseeds” is painted on top of an older picture of yours. It has quite an ambiguous title…
…the contradiction is interesting to me. In real life, these small black rapeseeds turn into beautiful yellow flowers. But when you only hear the title you would think about something else – as if it was the product of a rape. The structure of the seeds in the painting is obviously impossible – maybe even surreal – and underneath one can still see fragments of the older work. All elements rely on each other. This is what I mean, when I refer to chances. Here it worked out well.
When do you know that a painting is finished?
I don’t. I stop, when it’s not interesting to add more. But actually I just painted over the work “The Observer”, which I considered finished for a few months. There was something that annoyed me.
It is a fascinating picture, I think. What is it about?
I like it very much too, but that is because I don’t really understand it. It's a carnivalesque figure from a Catalan folk tradition that watches the children and makes sure that they don’t do anything bad. The painting is colourful and it involves a festivity. But at the same time it’s scary and the figure seems to be emerging out of some sort of brown smoke. It has three eyes and sees everything. I guess that the work is about feeling watched.
Oh, that’s a third eye? I always thought it was a face with a moustache.
Well, I like moustaches, too.
There seems to be a thread going through your work, which is about not understanding forms and spaces. In some pictures you have an understandable architectural form and in others the architecture is either impossible or it evokes a space of nothingness.
I really like this ambivalence and the fact that the viewer sometimes cannot understand the geometrical logic. In a picture you can create a space or a universe that only exists within the painting – somewhere in between reality and a dream.
You painted an extensive series with diamonds as your main motif. Four of these pictures are also exhibited in the current Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition that you are a part of. What do you consider so interesting about diamonds?
There are many parallels between famous paintings and famous diamonds. It's a bit like the idea of the masterpiece: a painting and a diamond can be precious, but they could also be falsifications. Both only have a value, because a few people decide how much they are worth. Some of the diamonds that I painted were famous and they have a history, others I just made up. So, there is this insecurity of what is real and what is not. On a more painterly level, diamonds are interesting, because of their geometric abstraction – all these lines and facets, playing with light and shadows. It's an ongoing project that I have been working on for more than two years now.
Rasmus Nilausen was chosen for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, which ends on the 15th of January, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. More information about the artist on rasmusnilausen.dk
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011: In the Presence
23 November 2011 - 15 January 2012
ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art
London, SW1Y 5AH
Opening hours: Wednesday: noon – 11pm, Thursday - Saturday: 12 noon – 1am, Sunday: 12 noon – 9pm, Monday - Tuesday: closed