no pride


An interview with Theis Eljas by Sune Johannesson, Editor of Culture



No Pride Without Tears

Enthusiasm can move a mountain, Theis Eljas said once we met, and went on: When the Vietnam War was over in the mid seventies it meant the death of the political art. Since that the artists have found nothing to engage themselves to. It all comes to the same thing. All kinds of chock therapies has been performed, without finding any glimpse of purpose, form and substance. Only lots of dead end streets.

Strength, faith, engagement, will-power, confidence, and devotion. This is what dwells behind the words. Theis Eljas is burning for art. To him there is no short cuts or lies. talk is OK, but when the light is on the artist will stand dumb and naked next to his creations.

TE: If you should do things you do not stand for, just to be “in” or to sell more, it would surely be more lucrative to get any other dispicable occupation.

This attitude forces high demands on himself and his art. Rather poor honesty than phoney riches. Self respect. It is all about that, and the word frequently occurs in our conversations.

Inside his house the paintings are hanging on the wall and leaning against each others on the floor. Twining, aspiring lines in dull pastel colors. Theme with variations. Cosmos plunged in soil. Out of the moving lines motives appear - faces, bodies, musical instruments - but not a thing is static or obvious. the settlement lies in the meeting between the spectator’s eye and the artwork.

TE: I never start with a sketch. it is far too boring copying oneself. instead I let the picture take over commandand allow the lines to strole where the hell they want to. They become my choreography in a color dance across the canvas. This is spontaneous and impulsive. And time does not exist.

The music accompanies in the background. classical music during the creating phase, folk music, blues or Pink Floyd during the finishing phase, as the framing. On top of the studio CD-shelf there is an egg timer, ticking during work to wake him up from the intoxication oc creating in settled time. On one of the tables his glasses are lying on top of a poetry collection by Seamus Heaney.

TE: When I am painting I feel the lines inside of me and I let the body follow. There you will find the rhytm, the light, the pattern, but I go even further and transform what happens spontaneously into something very “finished” and strict. I am a finicking devil and will never let anything pass that does not feels totally worked through.

Our first meeting took place in Osby, a small town in the North of Scania, sweden. In early Fall two years ago, in a show room filled with colorful, miscellaneous art, the second exhibition of a gathering of artists, who later on built the group Konst i Syd. What they had in common were the attitude towards art; honesty and love, with a strong belief in painting.

Theis Eljas said, that he was worried about the currant development of the art scene, more and more narrowly, narcissistically introverting. Art has turned its back to people and people has turned their backs to art. This is what has really happened, he said, and now he wanted to reconquer art. He wanted to give art a substance and a content.

This was the reason for my presence in Osby. Because there - like in any other small town - art is needed. Soon enough we were in the middle of a discussion about Life and Cosmos, the significance of random and Music and Future.

Theis cannot leave it aside. He is forced to scent the questions of eternity. To him this meeting is not a matter of steeling time, on the contrary, something that provides time. He wants to reach out, to impress, to touch, to wonder and to converse. Motion, motion, motion, motion... an eager fear of stagnation.

I had a lot of questions.

SJ: Theis, where does all this curiosity, this thirst for knowledge and art come from?

TE: A significant part of it goes back to my upbringing in Denmark. Nobody ever told me, that I was too little to manage certain tasks. A strong self-confidence was the result. Here it is different. The Swede seems to be afraid of sticking his head out.

SJ: Your father is an artist as well?

TE: Yes, and in my childhood all of his friends were artists and writers. They gathered in our home. probably because we had a house of our own. Two rooms and a kitchen,36 square meters, but at least - it was a house. They were all poor artists souls, living solely for art.

SJ: How did this environment influence you?

TE: Almost everything is to be found there. the attitude, the knowledge. the loaded discussions late nights. About Life, Art, Literature, Women and Poetry. it was all digested by the means of beer and wine.

SJ: Are you often thinking about it?

TE: Mmm, and I miss it! There is nothing similar in Sweden, and it is my feeling, that it has become uncommon even in Denmark. There is no longer a vital, engaging art debate. Only competition, mistrustfullness and envy. The artists are no longer burning for art, only for the allowances, it seems.

SJ: But living from art as an occupation is possible only to a very small minority. It requires certain planning and calculations. Discussions and red wine will not make anybody rich?

TE: True, in one way. But at the same time, what you become is actually rich. Through these recurring discussions and this continuing debate, artists built up each other, strengthened the intellectual clarity and the self-confidence. It created a positive and dynamic growth, which was tremendously fertile.

The home of his childhood was in Humlebaek, Denmark, but as a teen-ager he lived on Funen, where he got related to quite a few Funish artists. Especially Frank Hammershoj, who lived near by. The painters often met in Bogense at Alfred Bay’s studio - a backroom behind his small paint shop in main street. Alfred was an old and slow, but very interesting man. A brilliant painter, but not rmuch of an illustrator or designer.

TE: He used me as a model for a sketch, and the result looked like “Jesus on a horseback”. I insisted in doing another sketch with him as the model. The result happened to be quite nice. He gazed at the drawing for a long time in silence, and then he said: “Hmmm, I... once saw... hmmm... myself in the... mirror - did your father really sanction you drinking lager? - ... it, hmmm... looked very much... like this!”

SJ: What is left in your art from all these people, experiences, and meetings?

TE: Hard to say, everything is there in a way. I learned to generate a special relationship with art, with cosmos, built up a pattern, a structure for work and life, but in my art?... Perhaps the colors. These earth colors of mine. They are very much like Alfred’s.

SJ: And then you left Denmark, why?

TE: I had a desire to travel, to discover. Ii was a lot in Ireland during the seventies, travelling around, studying the celtic culture and visiting ruins of old monestaries. This was a great experience. I even lived in other places, met other expressions of culture. But actually, I did not find serenity and harmony until I moved to Sweden.

SJ: You have changed a lot during your more than twenty years stay in Markaryd,Sweden.

TE: Yes, on several levels. The travelling has continued, but towards the inner self. And the landscape has absorbed me. Except for the two years in Berlin I have always (before Sweden) lived close by the sea. Now I am living in the forest. So, I have changed my orientation from horizontal into vertical. Everything here points upwards, upwards, upwards, ...Naturally, this has been significant to my art.

SJ: Your interest in spiritual matters has increased, tell me about it!

TE: I will soon reach the age of fifty, and I sometimes get a glimpse of the gate at the end of the garden. If I look behind, it gets more and more obvious to me how everything - sorrow and joy, defeat and succes - is fitting in a perfect pattern, like created by a great hand...

SJ: God?

TE: When I get up in the morning I always wonder what plans the invisible powers have made for my day. You can plan and structure your life in details, but the real important incidents in life are impossible to predict. You know nothing about them. It cannot be planned, and I do not believe in random...

SJ: But your own life has not been a joyful dance, how does that make reason?

TE: Combat is the true meaning of Life! If you want to get somewhere in your personal development - and that is the one important issue - to your art as well - it is never success that counts! You will not learn a bloody thing from that. No, what teaches you about Life, is when you are forced to handle obstructions.

SJ: You have grown mature?

TE: You might say so. Matured, become more harmonic, calmed down. It is important to young presumptive artists with a hunger for success, not to reach for fame immediately, but instead to get themselves wide frames of references. To learn languages, psychology, to travel, meet different cultures. To be able to reflect themselves in others and experience Life and people. It requires lots of years “in business” before you discover the essential thing about art.

SJ: Future?

TE: Right now lots of things are happening. A result of a long art life. But I don’t know where I will end up at last. Perhaps I am sitting on the West Coast of Ireland writing poetry. Who knows?...

Sune Johannesson, Editor of Culture, Kristianstad, Sweden