Peder Stougård - The Headhunter

By Erik Meistrup

Peder Stougaard Peder Stougård was born on the 18th November 1946 in Skive, Denmark. He never got to know his father and was given his mothers maiden name. He was voluntarily placed in an orphanage from he was 3 to 14 years old, as the mother could not manage having a child. Trained as a cook in Ribe, where he was reunited with his mother. He quit the kitchen work and got a new start at the Danish folk high school of arts in Holbæk in 1968, which led to his continuation at the Academy of fine arts in Århus in 1969-72. From 1970 to 1972 he was the proprietor of the small gallery, "Galleri Øst", in Århus. In 1981 he founded the Danish Poster Museum based on his private collection of, at that time, about 60,000 posters. He exhibited for the first time at the art building SAK in Svendborg in 1969 and received the Århus County Culture Prize in 1988. Has exhibited everywhere in Denmark and in several places abroad, and in 1999 he celebrated his 30th anniversary with a large exhibition at the Music House Aarhus. In the period from 2001-2003 The Danish Cultural Institute had arranged a successful travelling exhibition in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, in which Peder Stougård was invited to exhibit.

We do not call it… bullying, when it takes place at society level, instead we call it expulsion and marginalisation. However, it is the same social process that takes place… exclusion from any social community… Therefore it is essential… to activate… and collect resources from the social capital, which exists as a possibility in any community… Danish researcher and professor in philosophy, psychology and social psychology Per Schultz Jørgensen in A*MO*R, illustrated by Peder Stougård, the publishing house of Børns Vilkår, 2001

Peder Stougård has known the visual world since his childhood. Merely in subjects as history or drawing that left room for imagination, the school became a sanctuary. He carried a dream of breaking the social limitations he grew up with and to be able to express himself creatively. The dream remained alive even though the ordinary reality was to earn one's living. He had the good fortune that his youth coincided with the economic readjustment and the political development of the 1960's, which created the so-called youth rebellion. The new conditions gave people with lower social backgrounds a possibility of changing their own destiny. This meant a new expansion of the democratic system and that the personal freedom was adopted together with the coming of new forms of expression within for instance music and visual art.

The social conditions of the 1940's and 50's were a possessive straightjacket that had almost frozen the European societies into a social pattern, reminiscent of an Indian caste system. The quick economic development did not only break down structures of society, but also a narrow-minded suburban society filled with prejudice and moralizing along with a conception that education was reserved to the narrow bourgeoisie.

Only the imagination makes life worth living, Peder Stougård
Stougård seized the new freedom and chose to concentrate on fulfilling his old dream of being able to express himself through images. At the same time, this was his way out of a social context that he found unbearable and into a world of expression where everything was possible. He was moved, as by euphoria, but he never forgot his background or his childhood and thirst to create his own images. Therefore, at the same time as his own stay at the academy, he became a teacher at the children's workshop of the academy, where he stayed as long as until 1992. Besides giving support to new generations of children seeking to test their own creative skills, the meeting with the children on their own terms also became an inspiration to him.

Stougård started graphically and concentrated on black and white images, which expressed a so-to-speak abstract movement in its idiom, inspired by, among other things, the Opart movement of the 1960's. In his work with the children he was confronted with their joy of using colours to create forms. The fulfilment of his dream to become a visual artist and create a life on his own premises started to heal some of the scars that a life in marginalisation always inflicts (but the scars remains in the recollection as the fountain of art) and this made him receptive to a more free expression, which many children's drawings reflects. The graphical expression had been replaced by an imagery absorbed by heads; at first exclusively as a clear black line, but now with colours. Hesitantly at first with only a few ground colours (which is also the spontaneous choice of the children), but little by little other colours were added, and he started to experiment in creating his own mixed colours both on the canvas and on paper. The choice of the impure mixed colours corresponds to his childhood on a psychological level. He also developed his own technique based on a very physical contact with the paper, where he added broken colour pigment to the paper and then rubbed and rubbed the colour with his fingers to make it cover all, so that a thick layer of colour was formed. This colouring is carried out in such sublime manner that many mistake his images for being based on a first-class printing technique. But every image is a painting.

To have your overall objective: To re-establish the immediate conception of reality.
Danish author and lecturer Jens Smærup Sørensen: "Et forbandet hul" (a damned hole), Breve (letters), 1992.

The "Head images" of Peder Stougård has always caused people to take a stand, perhaps because the stories that these heads tell are not all equally understandable, accessible or friendly. They are heads - not faces - because they are built up with an outer shape, which contains few features that makes you recognize them as faces. However, the greater part of what we use to decode the character of a person is in the details of the face, which are absent in most of Stougård's heads. The only fixed feature is a little, delicately shaped, yet always closed mouth. Stougård has like the child taken his point of departure in a round form, possibly with some dots and line and then you have a human head.

From this way of creating a ground form, he has through the years created several variations. The former art critic at the Danish newspaper, Århus Stiftstidende, C. F. Garde says: He has worked with a somewhat blurred face as his ground element. It isn't pretty, it isn't personal, and it isn't very characteristic in itself as a figure… (but the images are characteristic)… Not only because the features of the face are repeated with certain variations each time, but because he with its anonymity as starting point obtains incredibly refined effects with very small means. In 2001 art critic Algimentas Zizunas in Vilnius, Latvia thus summed up: Some of the images are seemingly amorphous and brittle. They are characterized by juicy colours and strong lines… one never confuses the images with the works of another artist. One can sense, almost read the true character of the artist within the laconic and very distinct symbolic portraits, where he by means of colours and lines shows us his inner feelings.

Stougård's heads are in their anonymity not in themselves symbolic figures. The heads are on a level just before you get to know them and before they become faces and thus independent individuals. The heads are seen as the child sees new adults for the first time or as one experiences the masses in the hectic life of the large city - strangers that you don't know. They can be good or evil, but you have to get to know and understand them to know that. In the earlier images several heads could be present and not rarely there was a little floating person, almost a helpless child without limbs, who seemed to either stem from the large head or to seek contact with it.

In his very own way Peder Stougård worked for years using the same methods as the famous Danish painter Kurt Trampedach by letting the inner child out and coming to terms with its presence in an imagery that allowed life and identity. However, where Trampedach seems to be going in circles and engage in his inner child in a more and more narcissistic manner, Stougård has worked his way through the heavy shadow of his childhood. Or to paraphrase the words of Smærup Sørensen, Stougård has succeeded in re-establishing an immediate conception of reality, which he is capable of transforming into an image. In this way he is, seen from an art historian point-of-view, in the same family as the Nordic expressionists (Jorn and Heerup), but also as the original surrealists.

For instance, Dali has a painting from 1938, "Apparition of a Face and a Fruitdish", where he uses the same type of mouth in a head form. Dali described his method as spontaneous, based on irrational knowledge controlled by a critical and systematic use of associations as objects of the imagery's display. And exactly because of the awareness of using the infantile, simple statement from his recollection in an active automation of the artistic transformation process, a world of images with a new artistic depth is created behind the immediate surface of the image. The image is probably an illusion, but is also an intended manifestation and interpretation of the rapport between the instinctive and the intended. Stougård works just as purposively and intentionally in capturing the moment in an image as someone like Jorn or Dali.

Since the late 1990's the heads have grown into sculptures or monuments. The shattered reality seems partly healed. Right from his birth Stougård had a glass splinter from the hobgoblins mirror in his eye, but like Kay in this fairytale of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen he has learned that love can conquer some of the false images and that you don't have to remain the ugly duckling. Through artistic development you can spread your wings and show the world that other sides of life deserve attention.

Through images Peder Stougård has created a long tale of nameless human beings, who are waiting to be released and step into character. His imagery is very personal, but at the same time very general in such a way that everyone can be reflected in the anonymous portraits and turn them into individuals. We all share the same basic circumstances and with the words of Per Schultz Jørgensen, we should therefore build up greater resources for the shared social capital, in order to ensure that less people are marginalised from the society. With his strong social experience and his engagement Peder Stougård has added artistic form to this process.

Erik Meistrup (1946). Author and art critic at several magazines, including Kunstavisen (Danish monthly art magazine) and the yearbook Danish Arts. Chief sub-editor and journalist at the local television in the Media House of Aarhus. Autodidactic ph

Copyright © Peder Stougård 2006