GITZ-JOHANSEN, LIFE AND WORK
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Gaining insight into the life and work of Gitz-Johansen reveals a story about an artist’s life-changing encounters with outstanding people and works of art.
In 1928, Gitz-Johansen (1897–1977) received a letter from Danish painter J.F. Willumsen (1863–1958). In his letter, Willumsen expressed gratitude to Gitz for appreciating his art. Willumsen’s symbolic works filled Gitz with enthusiasm. Willumsen may also have been responsible for introducing Gitz to works by French symbolist Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). At any rate, Willumsen was thoroughly familiar with the French painter, and the two artists had corresponded with one another in the late 1800s.
Paul Gauguin’s paintings made a distinct and decisive impact on Gitz. Gitz-Johansen was on his way to Hawaii to paint in the same manner that Gauguin had painted in Tahiti, but he managed to make only a few woodcuts of his depictions of Hawaii before meeting Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen (1879–1933) and changing his plans.
Gitz-Johansen met Knud Rasmussen in 1933. At the time, the Arctic explorer was world-famous for his expeditions in Greenland. The meeting was the direct cause of Gitz deciding to travel to Greenland in 1933, and Knud Rasmussen, who died that same year, would serve as a model for the artist. Gitz wrote about him in an article in the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende in 1940: “Knud Rasmussen was not only a great explorer, but an artist as well. He had the ability to be enthused by and obsessed with human emotions and phenomena. He was overwhelmed by the scenic splendour of Greenland and could articulate this through the living word.”
In keeping with the inspiring aspects of Gauguin’s and Willumsen’s works, Gitz was preoccupied with the psychological and emotive aspects of nature, art and Inuit culture. He sought to impart the essence of what he experienced through his works of art. He wrote multiple times in his sketchbooks about his method of working as being the opposite of ‘navel gazing’. His navel gazing jibe probably referenced the young surrealists of the 1930s who were rebelliously obsessed by the subconscious and who dominated the art scene of that era. His interest in the psychological and emotive aspects of nature – Gitz spoke of Alnaturen (Omnipotent Nature) – contrasted sharply with the fundamentalist evangelical environment in which he grew up.
His years in Greenland were among the most interesting periods of Gitz-Johansen’s work. The profuse material from this time provides unique insight into a colonially conditioned view of Inuit culture. Only a small selection of these works is included in this exhibition. The Bornholm Art Museum will display the material in collaboration with colleagues from Greenland in a subsequent exhibition.
Gitz-Johansen returned to Greenland twice after the Second World War, the last time in 1948. His later travels, however, mostly took him to Jokkmokk in northern Sweden, to depict the lives of the Sámi people in words and pictures. Gitz joined the Adventurers Club of Denmark in 1940 and travelled with fellow adventurers to Africa. He spent his summers on the island of Christiansø, which became his second home. He depicted the bird life of the island and the surrounding archipelago every summer from 1946 until his death in 1977.