Gothic Modernism

Gothic Modernism

The haunting universe of Henriette Heyn Olsen

One of Francisco de Goya’s early engravings is called ”The sleep of reason produces monsters”. It shows a man asleep surrounded by horrifying bats, owls and cats. The message is clear: absence of reason and rational thinking opens up for sub consciousness and its instinct ridden nightmares. 130 years later the surrealists reached the same conclusion, however with the big difference that they considered the instinct ridden subconscious mind as positive and liberating.

The reference to Goya in this context is based on different grounds. In the first place the Spanish master is one of Henriette Heyn Olsen’s main sources of inspiration. His series of engravings “Los Caprichos” is one of the preconditions for her very personal expression as an artist. An expression totally concentrated on engravings.

”The sleep of reason produces monsters” could be the overall title of Henriette Heyn Olsen’s work. Even though monsters of all kinds ranging from the horse of hell, ghosts and devils to skeletons and angels of death are omnipresent in her engravings, it is clear that the human being is the real evil. Similar to what can be seen in the work of Palle Nielsen, another important example for HHO, our greed, jealousy, selfishness and lacking capacity to love are at the roots of all misery. Contrary to Palle Nielsen HHO does not visualise her criticism of society in pictures of war. For her the travelling circus and its fun of the fair, coloured lanterns and brightly enlightened arenas symbolize the human race observing the come-down of its own feelings. When the animals of the merry-go-round turn into monsters or human beings hanging on meat hooks, it’s because our civilization has failed.

It is very characteristic, that the love that can be found in HHO’s universe is taking the shape of the gargoyles traditionally belonging to the ornaments of medieval cathedrals’ frightening facades, while men and women’s’ search for kindness and love end in despairing misunderstandings, powerlessness or even silliness. The artist may also depict this totally without the physical presence of men, e.g. by showing us a gracious art nouveaux pattern stained by the unpredictable flow of blood splattering the paper. In this case HHO can be compared to Edgar Allan Poe in combining beauty and horror.

When referring to Goya and Edgar Allan Poe, it’s because horror romanticism and gothic gloom are an important source of inspiration for Henriette Heyn Olsen’s engravings. However surprising angles, untraditional cutting and a remarkable undertone of pit black humour and post modern irony give proof of a modern artist. A modern artist, whose universe shows allusions and parallels to the dystopic music of Nick Caves, film directors like Orson Welles, David Lynch and Wim Wenders, and not at least the gothic instructor above all, Tim Burton. As far as pictorial art is concerned we experience in these years how younger artist delight in using motives taken from rocker insignia, tattoos, art nouveaux patterns, gothic horror movies, horror novels, pre-Raphaelites, French and Belgian symbolist artists and Victorian book illustrations. Using imagination and enjoying the unbridled creativity have simply again become legitimate. Henriette Heyn Olsen fits perfectly into this lustrous, blooming, fantastic, fabulating era. Her engravings have a fascinating dual function in tickling our senses and at the same time touching our moral and they have without any doubt a large public. She earns it.

Tom Jørgensen, redactor at Kunstavisen, DK 2003.