When Jeppe Nedergaard started art school in Sønderborg seven years ago, he had never painted before. He had previously drawn and done graffiti, but painting was new to him. Today, he has found his style in contrasts and semi-abstract expression, and he makes a living from his art, which is primarily sold at Galleri Maxus101 in Augustenborg.
“It’s this way”, says artist Jeppe Nedergaard as he welcomes GOTO Sønderborg’s delegates at the entrance to the former psychiatric hospital in Augustenborg.
Up the stairs and down a deserted and freezing hospital corridor, the mind easily wanders to scenes from the iconic 90s TV-series “The Kingdom” by Lars Von Trier. Jeppe smiles at the remark and invites us into his studio in a former hospital room along the hallway.
The room is lit by two large windows facing the castle park. At one end is an easel supported on a large canvas with the first brushstrokes of a woman stretched out in shades of black and red. At the other end – past the works of women bathing in winter – stand two chairs. This is where he sits when he has to look at his paintings in progress. In fact, you have to stand a little further away to see the works as they are intended. Close up, they are abstract.
For Jeppe, art is not a hobby. It’s almost a craving. A place where he feels free.
“I would actually go so far as to call it a vocation. When I was younger, I made rap music and it was in the studio that I felt free. So completely out of the body – like flying – free. That’s how I feel now, when I go to a white canvas and start painting,” he says.
When he started the painting course at Sønderjyllands Kunstskole in Sønderborg in 2017, it was with the expectation that it was a discipline he would become good at. He had drawn a lot since childhood and done graffiti in his youth, so expression through art came naturally to him.
Art career took off
Jeppe Nedergaard is 43 years old, married to Gitte Nedergaard and is the father of four girls aged 4, 6, 10 and 14. When he first started out, he used the utility room of the family home in Dybbøl as a studio. Jackets and footwear were covered with plastic while the paintings took shape. Today, a colourful array of stains on the floor, table, sink and cupboard doors serves as a reminder and witness of how far he has come since he unleashed his creativity with his brushes and canvas in the cramped utility room.
After a period as a hobby-studio artist in the Kunstværket association at the old Augustenborg Town Hall, he decided a little over a year ago to quit his full-time job as a graphic designer to become a professional artist. That was also when he moved his studio into the abandoned psychiatric hospital.
The hospital is now called Augustenborg Projects and is owned by Mark Augustenborg Ødum and functions as a hub for artists. On the ground floor, the premises have been converted into Denmark’s largest gallery in terms of square metres, and house a gourmet café that overlooks the peaceful palace park, almost Luciana-style, just a short stroll to the water’s edge.
“These works are of the redoubts at Dybbøl,” says Jeppe, pointing to two paintings of rough objects in grey and black. The objects are wrapped in a landscape of soft green hues and a white-blue sky over the horizon. They are part of the exhibition “211 km” in Gallery Maxus101. Maxus101 is the name of the ground-floor gallery owned and operated by curator Anthon Maxus Christophersen.
“I like edgy and abstract. You have to make an effort to decipher it, and you have to decipher your own version. The coarseness in the softness gives an expression of melancholy, which recurs in my pictures. The world is nuanced, especially in this time of corona and now war in Ukraine. I like to convey that through fates and contrasts,” he says.
The contrasts can also be seen in his exhibition of paintings of the Sønderborg Guards. He has portrayed guards dressed in the traditional white and red uniform to express the days of celebration in Sønderborg, filled with carefree joy and a sense of community. The cheerful mood is broken by a background in shades of black and grey.
“This is called ‘The show must go on’,” says Jeppe, referring to a painting of a group of guards standing close together.
“The Sønderborg Guards have been around since 1980, so they have witnessed many difficult times in society. Yet they have always performed and contributed to lifting people’s spirits. It’s just now that I’m experiencing it myself, because I didn’t see it as a child. Now it’s corona, war in Europe and inflation casting a shadow over our lives. But the Guards keep going and remind us that the hard times will pass,” he says.
A desire to be recognised – even outside the country
Today Jeppe Nedergaard makes a living from his art. The vast majority of his works will be sold at Galleri Maxux101 on the ground floor for prices ranging between DKK 13,000 and DKK 40,000. Although he is extremely happy that he can immerse himself in his art without his family having to compromise on their standard of living, he sees himself as being in the early stages of his career.
“I still have a lot to develop in my expression and style, so I see this as the beginning. My goal is to become a recognised artist both at home and abroad in the genre of figurative modern art – that is, Contemporary Art. I want to go to New York to exhibit before too long,” he says.
Jeppe Nedergaard has previously drawn a lot, done graffiti art, released two albums of his rap music and been a full-blooded hip-hopper with a skate shop. All in Sønderborg. For him, the city has helped create the opportunities and success he has enjoyed.
“It has been very important that the cost of living is so low, so I have had the freedom to spend time starting things and letting them develop. As a young rapper, I was inspired by MC Clement, a nationally recognised artist who came and rehearsed at Rottehullet – the local youth club. Even now Sønderborg is giving me something positive by allowing me to be in these premises and exhibit with renowned artists down in the gallery,” he says.
Jeppe values his artistic freedom and does not accept commissioned work. However, one of the few assignments he did accept can be seen on the cover of acclaimed rapper Gillis’ album “Carnival”. In this work, he conveyed Rio de Janeiro’s carnival atmosphere in the form of a colourful samba dancer.