Danish artist John Kørner follows world news in his paintings with an almost journalistic vigour. Through his abstract watercolours, he has addressed everything from the war in Afghanistan to Danish sex workers. He once said that if art fails to connect with something socially relevant, it has closed too tightly around itself.
If this is the case, his new exhibition is thrown wide open. This week, Victoria Miro gallery (who have championed the Copenhagen-based artist’s work for a decade) launch 'Apple Bombs', a series of Kørner's newest 'socially relevant' works. Unusually, these paintings aren't intended to represent a single situation, place, or political moment. ‘This week, they might represent the Middle East,’ Kørner explains, ‘and next week, somewhere completely different. It’s up to you.’
One thing’s certain – the paintings’ locations are successfully ambiguous. Icy peaks give way to arid landscapes, which sit side by side with dateless architecture. ‘I find abstraction to be the best tool I have to address the serious matters I want to convey,’ Kørner explains. ‘In this instance, I didn’t want to literally paint soldiers.’ His intention was to give the paintings a universal quality, ‘so different audiences can add their own experiences and stories’.
Instead of soldiers, Kørner depicts beekeepers. On why he made this sideways move, he notes, ‘I am interested in the expression, “the land of milk and honey”. Beekeepers try and protect the good life, the sweet life.’ And so he paints beekeepers innocently tending their charges, seemingly oblivious to the brooding, war-torn skies overhead.
But why apples? ‘Apples are about the purest, sweetest thing I can think of,' Kørner explains, 'and apples also have an iconic place in history.' The speed in which Kørner reels off the biblical and mythical background of the apple suggests some serious thought has gone into this motif, and it’s inclusion isn’t to be taken lightly.
For Kørner, the apple is a ‘true fruit', and the fact that they are seen descending hypnotically all over his paintings represents ‘a fall from grace’. His intention was for the beekeepers to feel overwhelmed and ‘stunned’ by the oppressive apple bombs – which become sickly and saccharine as they roll in spilled honey.
It seems there are metaphors within metaphors in Kørner’s complex new exhibition – like the great journalistic artist that he is, Kørner allows us to read into them as much as we like, ensuring that they nag at our imagination long after we've left the gallery.