1 August 2021


Ulrik Møller in his Berlin studio, 2021, photo by Anna-Lena Werner

In a typical industrial Berlin backyard, close to the little river Panke in the busy district of Wedding, the Danish artist Ulrik Møller found a bright space to create landscape paintings of his Danish home in Fyn and many other rural places. This opposition, between what he paints and where he produces the work, is inherently embedded in each single work as a longing for what is not around. Referencing and employing traditional techniques of painting, his art is always a manifestation of the endless travel between home and distance, between the comfortable and the exploration of the unknown. While visiting him in his studio, we talked about honest art, romanticism and Ulrik's current exhibition "Happy Together" at Faaborg Museum in Denmark.

Anna-Lena Werner: Ulrik, you are a Danish landscape painter based in Berlin. Do you sometimes experience conflicts working with this genre?

Ulrik Møller: Landscape painting may appear a bit weird in Germany. This is not the case in Denmark, where there are lots of contemporary artists painting landscapes. I think this has to do with the respective histories of these countries. Landscape paintings are always connected to romanticism, to feelings and to nationality – it is thus afflicted with the complicated German history. For me, however, landscape painting is a language. There is nothing coincidental: everything has a meaning. Landscape is a vocabulary through which I express myself.

ALW: You say that landscape painting is afflicted with nationality, which it is obviously also in Denmark. As opposed to the Germans, the Danish society has a widespread and less complicated pride towards their national identity. How are your paintings connected to your own national identity?

UM: They certainly have nothing to do with national pride. Eighty per cent of my paintings show the little village and the nature of the area where I grew up on the island of Fyn. I am so familiar with this landscape, it allows me to play with nuances. It’s my langauge.

Ulrik Møller "Seascape (Fire)", 2019. (private collection) and "Central Square, Vester Aaby", 2017 (courtesy of the artist)

ALW: Are you romantic?

UM: Yes. Nonetheless, not all my works are romantic per se. I don't paint nocturnal evening moments. Every tree, the light, the shadows, fog – has a structural reason to be on the canvas. Sometimes, I am surprised that so few artists use this painterly language. It is quite similar to film or literature, where very item, every prop and every word has a particular meaning for the story and is supposed to convey something.

ALW: Do you paint landscapes the way they are, or do you manipulate them in your works?

UM: I always manipulate them, just like grading is used in filmmaking. While there are protagonists in films, in my paintings the viewers occupy this place. For me, it's all about communicating an atmosphere.

ALW: Have you never been tempted to paint protagonists?

UM: No, because then I'd need to come up with a narrative. These people would need a role. I am only interested in a mood, or in symbolism. It is something sensual, something human, that I want to communicate.

ALW: It's funny that you paint eighty per cent the rural landscapes of your birthplace, but you actually live in the centre of Berlin. How did this happen?

UM: Yes, its some kind of longing – that is what it's about. But when I am on Fyn then I miss Berlin. 

Ulrik Møller's Berlin studio in Wedding, 2021, photo by Anna-Lena Werner

 ALW: What about painting other landscapes – such as the alpine mountains – which have also started to appear in your work...

UM: I do also paint the alps, but I am best in painting my home and can get most out of it. I am not that secure in painting the mountains yet – I need to practice more. Recently I painted the view from the hotel that I always live in during Venice Biennial. There I tried to capture a moment.

ALW: Tell me about how you paint, how your ideas are transformed onto the canvases.

UM: I always paint wet-in-wet, usually finishing a work during one or two days. Therefore most of my works have this blurriness. There are no sharp edges, no sharp transitions.  Although I sometimes prepare the canvases with drawings, the wet-in-wet technique requires me to take fast and spontaneous decisions, and unfortunately I risk destroying the painting within five minutes. But you get something back, something organic. Each painting is one condensed organism. I want to achieve what good stylistics would do to a text, transforming complex content into a form that is easy to comprehend.

ALW: Most contemporary artists avoid traditional routines, while you frequently refer to the tradition of painting and its science. How important is painterly technique for you?

UM: All the techniques that have been employed since the Renaissance, such as the golden section, are simply too important collections of experience and empiricism for me not to use them. It's knowledge of 600 years. But of course this is a paradox for me: I am aware that all contemporary artists want to be free from traditions, but I think being free is to be able to employ techniques. You need to be able to layout and build the image in a particular way, use the tools that you know, to prepare and structure it in its last detail, in order to convey the content for the viewer. It is a skeleton that you can follow. You cannot write a poem, if you cannot spell.

Ulrik Møller "Vejlerne II" 2021. (courtesy of the artist) and "Mountain Landscape (Gran Paradiso #2)" 2018. (private collection) 

ALW: What are the characteristics of a good painting?

UM: When you immediately realise that the work has been made in an honest way. It does not matter what kind of artwork it is. As long as it’s honest, it's usually good.

ALW: Does your interest in the technical aspects of painting maybe also relate to your previous profession as an engineer?

UM: I'm sure it does. Although after studying engineering, I only worked a few months in this job and then visited an education centre to do a course in art. My dad is an engineer too, so I do know what the job is about.

ALW: You found your own way into the art and never visited an art academy....

UM: ...When I started working as an artist, I was driven by the urge to be free. I tried all sorts of things, but very quickly I realised that landscape painting is my language. It all went very fast for me and I even got to work with a good gallery. From there I proceeded on to Berlin to build up my own network.

Installation shots from "HAPPY TOGETHER" at Vendsyssel Kunstmuseum in Hjørring Denmark

ALW: You are now an established artist in Denmark, regularly exhibiting in museums and galleries. Soon you show the third iteration of the traveling exhibition "Happy Together" on the island of Fyn, your birthplace...

UM: ...That's true. The exhibition is now taking place in the third museum, and I have been adding new works for each show. The first one took place at the Kunstmuseum in Ribe, the second at the Vendsyssel Kunstmuseum in Hjørring and the last one at the Faaborg Museum on the island of Fyn.

ALW: Why did you choose to call the show "Happy Together"?

UM: The show is basically about “Sehnsucht” - “longing” covers it to some extend I guess - so I had to think of something that would pay fair justice to “Sehnsucht”. It might seem funny but The Turtles ‘67 hit “Happy Together” does exactly that! It´s a song in which longing is reduced to its simplest, purest and most universal form.

ALW: Once you told me that while for others it might rather feel like the end of the world, for you the ocean feels like the beginning of the world, the door to new adventures. Is that a feeling that accompanies your art, for example your paintings of the Rostock harbour?
UM: Definitely, this is not only essential for my works but also for my development in general. The horizon of the water reappears constantly, as a sign of longing for discoveries and distant places. You will never find rest or peace, because you always look at the horizon. As children, my siblings and I were always playing at the beach. There was a little bay, to its right was a camping place and to the left was a little cliff. We knew that – looking south – at the other side of the ocean, behind the horizon, was the world – Germany and the rest of Europe. This space was huge and completely unknown to me. It left a strong impression.

The Rostock Harbour and the view from a hotel room in Venice at Ulrik Møller's Berlin studio in Wedding, 2021, photo by Anna-Lena Werner

ALW: Did you already have an interest in art when you were a child?

UM: I was always the kid in class that could draw very well and did this a lot, but I didn't know anything about art. I drew airplanes, ships and cars, it was not always that artistic. There was no option to be artistic at that time, as the village where I grew up did not have any culture to offer. It was only after studying, looking for freedom and reading lots of books.

ALW: In the past years you began working with film quite a bit. The images of your calm movie "En Route" begins with a car drive at the ferry from Denmark to Germany, it is your Grand Tour, all the way down to the Formula 1 car race in the South of France and further on. You are exploring the south of the horizon that you looked at as a child. How did you begin working with film?

UM: The Danish film company Zentropa, that produces movies from directors such as Susanne Bier, Lars von Trier or Thomas Vinterberg, wanted to pair directors and artists for small projects. The director Lone Scherfig contacted me and asked me to collaborate. I didn't know much about film making, but I got my own camera and cutting programs, and began creating an archive of clips. Some things that seem impossible to present on a canvas, such as a paradoxes or opposites, can be better conveyed in film through the film montage and post production. It allows me to play with the subconscious, instead of crystallising every detail into the obvious. I wanted to work with the aesthetics of the cinema.

ALW: Will you continue working with film?

UM: Yes definitely. I usually go through my archive, and then, spontaneously, something will happen.

ALW: Do you always have creative ideas, or do you also take pauses?

UM: Luckily, I always know what to work on next. I have this ambition to become at least a decent painter one day. What I do is very much related to skills – the better my painterly skills, the better the painting will be.

Ulrik Møller, Portrait by Andreas Bastiansen 

Ulrik Møller: Happy Together 

until the 19th of Sep 2021 at Faaborg Museum on island of Fyn, Denmark