A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Allis Helleland, former director of The National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen
We have the long, white summer nights here in our part of the world, because the sun doesn’t disappear behind the horizon when it sets. Its light still illuminate the sky until the dawn breaks through. It keeps the dark away from May to August and offers a very special white light and a unique scenery. Close to the coast and especially in damp places mist and haze rise up and mix with the white light so shapes are blurred. The atmosphere becomes even more dreamy, and the air is filled with witchcraft and magic which appeals to our imagination.
The white nights climax on the shortest night by midsummer, summer solstice, when the sun is the furthest to the north. This is when the forces of nature are the strongest and the instincts rise up in man and creature. This night was created for love, lust and passion. We know this from a lot of popular legends and fairy tales, and from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Elfin-Hillock. But William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the woods are full of magic and unreal beings, who meddle and cause complications in the humans beings’ passion and love relations, is probably the most well-known.
According to old legends the gates of the land of the dead are also opened on Midsummer Eve so the souls of the dead can rise up from the afterlife and be reunited with their dead and living kinsmen on earth for just one night. Other legends and many ballads tell the story of the elves who let their beautiful young girls out of the elf hill on this night tempt young men fit for marriage to dance with them and in this way dance the life out of them so they die. It’s all about life and death and rebirth.
It is Nordic summer nights like these that the Danish artist Hanne Støvring portrays in her lyrical paintings. During a lot of years the small coastal town Gudhjem on the faraway island Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, far from the city and the rest of Denmark, has been the home of her studio. Here on the edge of Denmark, under a clear sky and with the open sea to the great world, through her intense senses she experiences the scenery of the summer night of Bornholm where witchery and magic rule in the bluish-white vibrating light, the changing weather, the intimate calmness and the nuances of coloursover sea and sky.
She catches the invisible moods and transforms the impressions to lyrical, light-filled sceneries full of sensations. Her paintings are really like a kind of romantic dream pictures – a piece of nature poetry in wonderful turquoise and icy blue, white, pale yellow and bluish green, wine red, purple and soft violet and greyish green nuances where the shapes are only vaguely visible in the dusk taking on the colours of the night sky of the summer. The shapes are not physically measurable, only suggestions of a few lines in the light, the air and the colours as if they were performers in a dream, evanescent and ungraspable.
The titles of the paintings suggest that she focuses on human life and solidarity and nature moods. She tells stories of compassion and passion, caresses, separation, awakening and dreams, hopes and miracles. Often we find several shapes in the same painting, usually a man and a woman and little families on their way. Some embrace each other as if they see each other for the first time in a long time. A great shape is received with homage by a large crowd. In several of the paintings we see figures who dance in a circle – like elf maids clad in dresses woven by mist and moon light. Young couples disappear two and two – just as in Shakespeare. Several of the shapes fight and pull at each other. Some are wandering toward the light, maybe fleeing, maybe leaving their own country, going to new communities and challenges, setting out on their journey through life.
All of this, however, is only hinted at, and it’s up to the viewer to use all of her senses and put her own dreams and life stories into the paintings. In this way Hanne Støvring calls to the presentiments and the myths and underlines the mysticism of nature in the Nordic white summer night.