Featured Artist: Per Adolfsen

Per Adolfsen is an expressionist based in Odense, Denmark, who works in coloured pencil and crayon. His pieces are known for their unique colour schemes and dreamlike textures and patterns that have been influenced by artists such as Edvard Munch. Primarily inspired by nature, Adolfsen has left his studio days behind and purposefully situates himself in nature every day to draw, later recreating what he encounters in his works. He has shown his pieces in solo exhibitions in Paris, New York and Shanghai.

Can you tell us a bit about how you started out and your work now?

I did my first painting when I was 13 years old, when I started cycling out into nature and drawing in the forest. I have been through several artistic phases since then, from abstract art to surrealism, but I have now gone back to what I did when I was a young boy, which is painting nature within the natural world.


Coloured pencil, chalk and graphite on paper 60 × 42 cm


What is a typical working day like for you?

I left my studio three years ago, and I never returned. I simply go out into my surroundings, and then I draw. Many of these drawings become sketches for final works. I always sketch directly from nature, not from photographs. 

Your scenes look reminiscent of real places but also like they may include memory and personal references. Are they based on a combination of reality and imagination?

My artworks are based on real places, but there is also a narrative in them that is based on my story. This is also shown through the colours and emotions that I put into the artwork, and the environment I choose to depict.  


Coloured pencil and graphite on paper, 42 × 30 cm


How did you decide to use coloured pencils for your recent work? 

Over the course of nine months I decided to draw three artworks every day, using the same regular pencil on small pieces of paper. The project was meant to last a month! One day, I thought it would be interesting to see how it would work with coloured pencil, so that I could add a touch of something else to the artwork along with a sketch of what I’d seen. 


Coloured pencil, chalk and graphite on paper, 60 × 42 cm


How do you make decisions in your work? You often work with a limited palette – what is it that you enjoy about this?

It is very simple: before I start working on a piece, I already have a picture of it in my head, so I know what direction I’m going in. It’s almost like I know how the result will turn out. I start with this image, and then I begin working. 


What historically significant artists do you enjoy, and what contemporary artists do you look at today?

Right now, I’m very captivated by Anton Kiefer. Historically, I have always admired Edvard Munch, Paul Cézanne and Caspar David Friedrich. I admire these artists because I get the sense of feeling behind the strokes in their artworks – that there is something deeper that isn’t brushed out, and that it is up to me how I perceive it.  

The personal frame of reference that I take from this is that, since we are all human, we have something in common emotionally, and I feel that these artists manage to depict the melancholy and sadness of what life is all about. What interests me about the way in which they deliver this is that it has been done in a way that doesn’t impose on the audience. You’re not forced to philosophise or explain anything, it’s just about how you feel on a deeper level.  

I saw Caspar David Friedrich’s work in Berlin, and I could just feel the pain coming through his art. It actually turned out that during working on them he had experienced one of his really difficult periods. He had never intentionally tried to paint pain, but I could sense it through his artworks, and that’s why it is interesting. 


Coloured pencil and graphite on paper, 42 × 30 cm


Do you hope that your work connects with people and raises awareness of the importance of caring for the environment?

Overall, I believe my artwork is about respect for certain systems. Both for human systems, and the systems in nature – and we are a part of that. If we ruin the system that has been given to us, then we have ruined our fundamentals. I don’t see my art as a climate campaign, but I do believe that nature is a gift.  


What advice would you have for an artist just starting out?

Perhaps to forget the term ‘art’. It is so difficult to define art, so I believe the pressure behind the word can block out seeing the world with a clearer perspective.  

I also believe you must be very conscious about not being afraid, and just make art because you feel like something is beautiful or means something to you. This way, you have a bigger chance of getting to the core of telling and showing something of yourself through your art, and then other people might also be able to see themselves in it. You obviously have to work hard – nothing comes by itself! And you need humility, otherwise you forget why you are doing it in the first place. 

All images are courtesy of the artist. Click here to see more of Per's work.  

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