Peter Michael Hornung, obituary, 18. nov 2021

His escape lasted a lifetime: Jørgen Haugen Sørensen is dead

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen eventually remained a self-centered rebel who was inspired by his unwillingness to adapt, writes Peter Michael Hornung in this obituary.

At one of Jørgen Haugen Sørensen's exhibitions - just over fifteen years ago - you could experience a large and challenging sculpture. ‘While We Wait’ was its title. It was figurative and perhaps produced by the artist himself, who took a swing with Death. For even the most living human being knows well that death awaits out there somewhere on the life path and timeline. And Jørgen Haugen Sørensen was a very lively person.

Now he is dead at the age of 87, this great, self-reliant, defiant and completely anti-authoritarian Danish sculptor. He did not spare himself while alive, but lived long enough to triumph as an artist, with vast works located in metropolises such as Seoul, Ankara and Rome.

He preferred to be where a cloud cover does not steal sunlight and where life can be lived freely while creating equally uninhibited

But the beginning had been difficult. At almost twenty years old, he left Denmark, among other places. to distance oneself from a childhood and upbringing which would have pulverized anyone with a weaker self-preservation drive. Like his brother, the painter Arne, Jørgen Haugen Sørensen quickly distanced himself from all national preconditions, and the escape came to last a lifetime.

His statements about the Academy of Fine Arts were not always friendly. That he did not get his education right there did not mean that he came to meet art without preconditions.

Stations on an artistic journey

As a young man, he had learned to utilize his creative abilities, both on paper and in spatial materials. He was trained as a plasterer and potter, just as he was around the School of Arts and Crafts. When he finally made the art of sculpting the domain of his life, hardly any technique or method was foreign to him. In 1964, he had his first solo show in Louisiana. It was only 11 years after the debut at Charlottenborg's Spring Exhibition.

Although admired and respected, Jørgen Haugen Sørensen never felt completely at home in Danish art life. He preferred to be where a cloud cover does not steal sunlight and where life can be lived freely while creating just as unrestrained. In 1960, he traveled to France, and later moved to Italy, where he settled near his own favorite material: the marble quarries of Pietrasanta. Haugen Jørgensen never used violence on the stone that he worked on - or that he had an assistant process.

Probably he could chop or saw in a rock. But he never tried to hide the material he had chosen to work in. If the material was a stone, you could often feel the raw, unpolished shape of the natural stone, just as you could almost always feel his fingerprints in the clay sculptures he had modeled and burnt.

He wanted people to interpret his sculptures as stations on a continuing artistic journey. But even he preferred to perceive his sculptures as three-dimensional images.

The 'lump' that had been the alpha and omega of so much Danish sculpture was not found in Jørgen Haugen Sørensen's works. It was important for a work to be able to accommodate its own contradictions. Some of the early ones were more sculptural landscapes than actual sculptures. They were divided and scattered and apparently knew no restraint, but had to be held in place by special forces.

One of his most talked about works in Copenhagen, ‘De kantede bærer, og de glatte glider’ from 1984, contains some of these opposing forces. Here is both something that rises and something that gives in, in a united movement over and through the yellow wall around Assistens Cemetery in Nørrebro. The movement is also found in ‘Den ene bærer den anden’ (1983, Esbjerg Art Museum), ‘Den blå kravler over den røde’ (1977, Kastrupgårdsamlingen) and ‘Den slanke som bærer den tunge’ (1983, Copenhagen City Hall). Even the titles of his sculptures had their own inner contradictions.

Back to the clay

More than a dozen years ago, Haugen Sørensen would have been formally classified as an abstract artist. And one would have done it with reference to some of his greatest decorating assignments in any sense such as. ‘The house that rains’ (1992-93) on Sankt Hans Torv. In it, figuration and abstraction have finally taken hold.

But around 2000, he began to return to the more figurative style of the young years, at the same time as he returned to the clay. In particular, he showed this both new and old side of himself with the exhibition ‘I mean I see’ at the Glyptoteket, where the classic cultural heritage became the starting point for a number of naturalistic human figures.

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen eventually remained a self-centered rebel who was inspired by his unwillingness to adapt.

What the burning lava from Mount Vesuvius managed to do to the living beings who did not get away in time could also be the inspiration for something beautiful. The shift between different materials and motifs was the process that kept him going. But the disaster was never far away. It became a challenge as he began modeling again and painting his sculptures. That he was so eminent at making some large lumps of clay resemble the body of a human, or a dog, even a skeleton, came most behind those who did not know of his beginnings as a sculptor.

One of his last monuments, ‘Kolossen’ in Kastrup Strandpark, also became one of his largest. But despite a height of 8 meters and a weight of 70 tons, it did not create quite the same attention as the other monuments that he unleashed in public.

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen eventually remained a self-centered rebel who was inspired by his unwillingness to adapt. But his rebellion had format, and the art world respected him. He received the Eckersberg Medal in 1969 and the Thorvaldsen Medal ten years later. In 1984, he was awarded the Statens Kunstfonds lifetime grant.

He was a remarkable, albeit rare, guest at exhibitions in Denmark, but in recent years it has been possible to meet works by him in Hans Alf Gallery.