To enter the studio of Tine Lundsfryd in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, you climb a dark, narrow staircase lined with paintings, into a light, open space: rooms for living, dining, and working. Each furnishing or decoration that has been allowed to remain in this very minimalist space is perfectly aesthetic, evocative of a trip or a connection to another artist.
The airiness of Lundsfryd’s home and studio is present in her work. Despite the complex grids and the layering of pattern, shape, and ornament, her painting is characterized by its lightness. Segments of her symmetrical forms are often only partially drawn: it is space left open for us. Lundsfryd’s work unfolds gently. It is at once intricate and elemental.
Last month, Lori Bookstein Fine Art held the third solo show of Lundsfryd’s painting. Born in Denmark, Lundsfryd studied at the New York Studio School and received an MFA from Parsons School of Design in the 1990s. She was awarded a purchase prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009.
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Jennifer Samet: You grew up in Denmark and studied with the artist Carsten Dinnsen, and at the Anthroposophical Society, and then joined an art collective called Studio 82. Can you tell me about some of your early experiences with art?
Tine Lundsfryd: I grew up in a coastal town in the southeastern part of Denmark.
It is a cozy place with a creative community of artists and artisans.
I remember when I was in school being taken to a small exhibition of Fluxus art in the town. There was a piece with a pile of sand, and on top of it, a chair with its legs cut off. I was very taken with it, thinking it was such an unusual and interesting way to make something, and very impractical.
My mother played the piano, so in my youth I was more exposed to music, and taken to concerts more frequently than art museums. But gradually, I realized that a visual image could be a way to put so many things together.
I really had this idea that I needed to learn to draw, so I sought out different teachers. I also went everywhere to draw from life in Copenhagen, copied at the cast collection at the Glyptotek, and studied painting in the art museums. You meet people, and I joined this group — we shared space in a loft building. I was part of a certain artistic community in Copenhagen.
At the time De Unge Vilde (The Young Wild) was a contemporary art movement I took interest in. I believe it originated in Germany. In Denmark there is a tradition of modernist painting and abstraction. I looked at the CoBrA painters: Asger Jorn and Else Alfelt, because of the gestural expressiveness, and inherent abstract qualities. I was also influenced by artists connected to the Bauhaus group: Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, which was tied into my interest in Anthroposophy and Theosophy. That naturally evolved into an interest in Mondrian.
I remember the first time I saw an image of a Woman painting by de Kooning. I brought the book to my teacher. I thought the painting had a rawness that I did not quite know how to relate to. I asked, “Do you know this painter?” He said, “Yes, I know of him; he is a New York painter. The painting has an aggressive form of expression.” I was not exactly looking for that. It seemed foreign to me.
I was curious, and I looked at a lot of art books, but I wasn’t looking at Warhol or Pop Art or Minimalism. I was much more interested in painting, the brushstroke, the personal touch, and probably a gentler approach. I never put up my painting and feel it’s a battle. It is not a battlefield for me.
JS: How did you end up at the New York Studio School?
TL: I never really imagined I would come to the United States, but I wanted to go to art school. I met a Danish painter who became my boyfriend, and he had studied at the New York Studio School. In that time, the 1980s, I felt there was a lot of emphasis on installation, and I was seeking a place where I could go and just study painting.
We were traveling in Spain together, and in a little gallery in Madrid, I noticed a catalog of the work of Esteban Vicente. I thought the paintings were so beautiful; I was so taken with them. I showed it to my boyfriend and he said, “Oh, he teaches at the New York Studio School!” I decided I wanted to go study with him. He was almost 90 by then, so I needed to go right away.
Vicente was a person who could say, “Paint a bottle on a windowsill”: do something very simple, and maybe you can go from there. It was a certain approach to painting. He encouraged us to use a very limited palette, of about six different colors, and when first learning to paint, he thought that blacks and earth tones should only be mixed from other colors, not taken straight from a tube. He would have the students gather in the library for critiques. He would point to his eyes and say, “Painting is a visual art, so it is an education of the eye, an education of your vision.”
JS: In your early years you were making expressive, gestural paintings. How did the grid become a component of your work?
TL: After the Studio School, I went to Parsons for graduate school. The department completely changed within one semester of my arrival. It went from being a program focused on study from life to something else. I found it equally exciting and interesting. I really appreciated all of my art school experiences. But, to the teachers, I may have represented something other than what they wanted to see.
I stayed in New York for a little while after I graduated and then I went back to Denmark. I set up a studio there. I was reflecting on my experiences at graduate school. After a critique, I had been told, “Not everyone is supposed to be a painter; there are many other things to do in life.” The comment stayed with me. I had an inner dialogue: “Well, I may not be a good painter, a relevant artist, but I can still be a painter.” And I embarked on my own journey.
I got a catalog in the mail for the Vermont Studio Center and decided to go. I was there in the winter, and while I was there, I went to the supermarket and bought a cylindrical sponge. I decided to make dots with the sponge. I really liked paintings with dots. I just put marks all over the painting.
After that, I started to move into making a line, just putting a line on a canvas. Maybe it was related to writing — putting down these marks. Then, to arrange the canvas, I put in a grid. It was about filling out the painting. I started to make line paintings. I had the horizontal and the vertical, and I introduced the diagonal, and then I had the triangle. I had these kinds of mosaics. That’s just how it goes — you make a triangle, you make a square, a pentagon. You go on and on, and then in the end, it’s a circle.
I became interested in different kinds of grids, like grids made with circles. And from the circle come all the different symbols or ornaments. It became about combining the different grids. I want that experience of really entangling them.
JS: You refer to the forms in your paintings as symbols and ornaments; how do you select these forms and what is their significance to you?
TL: I would just see them everywhere. I paint things that I see, that I like, and that I think are beautiful or interesting. I don’t invent new images. It is always something that I see in the world.
For the color in my painting, I also look around. The light and colors in New York and Brooklyn are so beautiful for painting. Maybe it is because I have that long tradition of working from life. I see something, and I know the feeling that a still life or landscape painter would have when realizing it would make a beautiful color combination. The light in New York and the light in Italy have a similar softness. It is different from the cooler, Northern light.
My husband and I spent a lot of time in Umbria during the summers, and it was there that I started taking notes in sketchbooks of decorative elements in churches, museums, and homes. I would look at mosaic floors and walls, and the ornamental framing edges of paintings. I did the same thing in Rome, and in Romanesque churches in the south of France.
There are symbols I see in nautical museums, and I sketch them. They might be on the floor at the Met, or in a painting. There are Sassanian symbols that are floral, but also look like feathers. I like when they are ambiguous. There are ornaments from Venice. Many of them have religious or symbolic significance to the people who use them, like suns and solar symbols.
I made paintings in which the eight-pointed star shape and the shape of the cross were combined. My intent was that it was about different cultures and different symbols colliding. Different grid structures were combined as well, like a Roman pattern with triangles making a square, and an Islamic floor pattern.
It brought me into this place of working with symbols and ornaments from different cultures, different places, different professions, and trying to put them together as some kind of metaphor. I was thinking about a kind of collision, entanglement, but also co-existing. It was about the complexity of the world.
JS: You explore these collisions in your paintings, but there is also a lot of openness to how you describe your experiences with other artists. Is this openness a part of your aesthetic?
TL: Yes, I have that in me: I have strong opinions about certain other matters in life, but as far as contemporary art, I don’t get completely fired up. I might like something; I might not like it. I might not take a lot of interest in it, but I don’t ever feel it shouldn’t be in the world.
Sometimes, in New York, we feel there is so much art. But there is not a lot of art in the world. You don’t have to go far to not see anything. If you were somewhere where there was nothing, like a cell, and you had a painting, immediately you would have so much. In a place where there is no culture, it would be harder to say, “That is a bad painting; it doesn’t give me an experience.”
In the arts we have certain areas where we are very strict, and say only the best is acceptable. And we have other areas where it doesn’t have to be the greatest. Then we might call it craft: like mosaic. I think people can admire a mosaic, even if it’s not the greatest mosaic.
There is something to deciding that you want to be involved in the world of culture that has its place, even if it’s not because you have been told you are great. It is all part of a vehicle, an interest in and engagement with the world through painting. Painting is so alive, and yet so still; that is why it has become what it is.