Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am from Denmark and currently based in Copenhagen. I knew early on that I wanted to choose a creative carrier, which to begin with was graphic design, not art. It took me three tries to be accepted at the Danish Design School, so it was a great victory when I succeeded – both that, and to actually get a job after graduation. However, as time went by I realised that graphic design was not a fulfilling choice for me, so when most of my peers were about to peak their careers, I decided to start all over again.
Without a clue as to what I was dealing with I started painting. At that time I was living in London and took a diploma portraiture course, which gave me a lot of technical skills, but the problem was I still had the mindset of a graphic designer.
Then one day I found this amazing Art School Spektrum in Copenhagen, which specialises in preparing people to apply for art schools/academies all over Europe. I ended up being accepted at Slade School of Fine Art in London from where I graduated last year. In other words I am a young artist in an experienced person’s body.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
As a teenager I started to be interested in art, but never considered it as an opportunity for me. However when I met people I had gone to school with that had become artists, I got envious, and found that they had made the right choice and I had not.
What do you like most about working where you do?
My new studio is bright, has lots of storage room and is in the centre of Copenhagen, which is both convenient and gives easy access to a lot of good shows. Though the best part about my current studio are the other 20 artists in the building, and the fact that we all run a small exhibition space together, which is a great experience for me.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
For many years the human being was my main subject, but around the time I went to Slade it changed into landscapes. The reason for this change in imagery was a desire to have subtler narratives. My portraiture background made me paint human figures too specifically. The underlying theme is still the same though: the balance between two opposite charged notions – e.g. dystopian versus poetic. I am quite obsessed about the idea that nothing in life is black and white, unilaterally good or bad. I try to make the viewer doubt my intentions.
What is your process like?
Inspiration comes from everywhere. I take a lot of photos, which I later collage or make drawings from. Sometimes ideas just start in my head and then I sketch them down by drawing or painting smaller versions of the potential, original painting. I never stick to my sketches 1:1 but let the painting unfold. I often work on multiple paintings at a time.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
The use of light and darkness to create doubt and confusion is very interesting. Right now I explore city lights that distort forms and colours – a balance between splendour and circus. A theme very much inspired by my recent stay in London.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
Because I am older than most up-and-coming artists, a lot of (practical) aspects about my life are already in place. I am very lucky to have a husband that earns enough for us and I try to supplement his income by making graphic design, portrait commissions and now and then selling a painting.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
The last five years I have met so many interesting and clever tutors, it’s hard to mention some and maybe forget others… but the overall advice they gave and for which I am grateful is that you have to make art that interests you no matter what might seem more reasonable or profitable. You have to be true to your inner passions.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
To have friends and family that support me is very important, but even more so to have a network of other artists with whom I can explore the art scene and try out various projects.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
Preferably I get all practical issues out of the way in the morning and am in my studio around 11ish. In return I stay until 7 or 8 pm more or less, every day, unless something related to art brings me out and about. I listen to all sorts of music while painting, no talking or podcasts that would ruin my focus. My work from the previous day gets me going.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
To attend Spektrum and Slade has been crucial to my artistic development and especially my artistic networking.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
People’s prejudices have been difficult to deal with; art is often considered a hobby unless you are famous, connected to a gallery or can make a living from it. Say I was an unemployed graphic designer or just an unsuccessful one, my professional identity would still be recognised. Also the feeling of not doing something “useful” hits me now and then.
How would you define “success” in art?
Success is for me a definition that keeps changing. For every fulfilled goal a new ambition rises.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Actually, to be accepted at Slade was one of my greatest achievements to date. Ten years ago it was a dream I didn’t even dare to dream. But also to enter one of the five state-recognised, juried exhibitions in Denmark, with three very large paintings, win the “painter of the year” prize and sell all of them to a collector, was a great experience.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
I am involved in several projects, and I feel I have a lot to catch up on. It implies being a part of a curating group and trying to get an exhibition platform up and running.
Anything else you would like to add?
I love to be a painter… I am so glad I changed my career.
Find more at nielsenkjaersgaard.dk and on Instagram @hanne_n_kjaersgaard!
I love your paintings and what you‘ve written here, especially the part about dystopian vs. poetic. I‘m a huge fan now 🙂