Jan Bo Vinter Poulsen: Capturing Life in Portraiture

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What drives you to create art?

At the moment my subject is portraiture; it is my way of getting to know people. It’s about observation, especially out and about in the city. When I draw people I don’t know I make up stories and I like those stories. Later I turn some of those drawings into more developed portraits; some are of people that I know and some are of unknown people.

3 Men | Colour Mono Print Aquatint dry point | 63 x 39 (framed) | £215

Alessandro | Oil pastel on black cartridge | 44 x 43 cm (framed) | £140

What interests you about portraiture?

I come from a background of architecture and I have been working for over ten years with inanimate objects and buildings. I worked with buildings and things proportional to human scale, but not working with the humans themselves, so when I stopped working as an architect it seemed the right thing to do. It is really hard to do and it is challenging, but I like that challenge.

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

I have always been an artist; but actively I have painted for the last six years. In the beginning I really struggled with calling myself an artist, I always referred to myself as an architect first and an artist second. Today I often leave out architect, because it disturbs the picture of who I am; today I am an artist and I am very comfortable saying it.

What do you think the tipping point is to be able to comfortably say that?

That I actually don’t care what people think, letting go of that obsessions… well of course I do care to a certain degree of what they think, otherwise I wouldn’t exhibit, but it is about not caring too much and being willing to put your things out there be subjected to other peoples’ opinions and be measured by their standards. I think just saying that you are an artist can be challenging to put to some people, so you have be confident in it.

Untitled Man 2 | Oil pastel on black cartridge | 44 x 43 cm (framed) | £140

What is it about our character as humans that you are trying to portray?

I want to capture that thing you can’t take a picture of, that thing you feel when you are getting to know another person. It is also a drawing and a portrait by me, so it is of me; there is a lot of projection of what I see in each person, so it is very subjective.

Why start with black?

In architect school, very early on I started with white paper and watercolours and the way you brought in light was by leaving the paper white. I just wanted to tip things around and reverse it. I have been painting on black backgrounds for a while now and I feel it brings out the colours more.

Where do you hope you take your art?

I don’t know, I just hope that I don’t stop. I have had periods in my life where I didn’t paint as actively as I do now and they are definitely not happy periods. When I paint and am productive it gives me so much joy, I think for me the joy is very much in creating and it’s not a job were you have a continuous production of stuff. It comes in waves for me, there can be dry patches and those can be very frustrating, where you don’t know what you are doing or why you are doing it. You end up asking yourself a lot of very unreasonable and existential questions, yet in all that hardship you get a break and suddenly you start painting again; the answers somehow are in the work.

Peter | Oil pastel on black cartridge | 44 x 43 cm (framed) | £140

Do you think it is necessary to have hardship to create great work?

For some, I don’t know, there is no recipe for this. I don’t seek out pain and torment in my work, I like things to be pleasurable and I also think that to create art you need to be joyous and free.

If you could give a piece of advice to a young artist what would you say?

Follow your instincts, follow your heart and don’t stop, try to worry less, it is fucking hard, but do it. I think a lot of people today are thinking so much and doing so very little, there is so much talk about basically nothing. It is much nicer when there is a lot of work to look at, so just do it and be productive.

Jan Bo was in our Spring Collection exhibition at the Menier Gallery in London Bridge. His works can be found available in the exhibition catalogue.