Mille Guldbeck

Mille Guldbeck in her studio before leaving for Denmark

Painter Mille Guldbeck reconnects with her Danish roots

“My personal journey is to reclaim and discover the things that I love, and it inevitably leads to the natural world and the question of what is my place in it,” says painter Mille Guldbeck.

The BGSU artist has been selected for two prestigious exchange programs that will allow her to reconnect with friends, colleagues and the once-familiar landscape of Denmark.

The daughter of Danish parents, Guldbeck said that, for part of her childhood in Illinois, life was focused on Danish culture and the family’s roots. That sense of belonging continues to draw her back to her ancestral home, where she had moved at age 17. She is fluent in Danish and proficient in Swedish and Norwegian, which she believes played a part in her being chosen for the two programs that seek to bridge the distance between countries and cultures.

She left at the end of July for her first exchange program in Denmark, in the official capacity of guest artist in the Baltic Sea International Artist Residency program of the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art (NIFCA). NIFCA comprises artists from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

Guldbeck, who has been a BGSU School of Art faculty member since 1999, is spending the month of August in a guest studio and residence for sculptors and painters in Odense—birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen—where she is focusing primarily on creating works on paper. She will also meet with other artists in the region and hopes to arrange a small showing of her work.

Connecting art and nature
The second program, with an $8,400 Fellowship grant from the Amanda C. Roleson Fund of the American-Scandinavian Foundation, will enable her to spend six months in Denmark. From February-August 2007, she will work alone on the remote island of Møn studying organic systems and rare plant life as the basis for new paintings.

Møn, about an hour and a half south of Copenhagen, is worlds away from life as most Americans know it and is being declared a protected area, Guldbeck said. Close to the former home of her paternal grandmother, “it’s the only place in Denmark with white chalk cliffs, like the cliffs of Dover, and is very beautiful and very inspirational.”

Leaving her airy studio overlooking the corn and soybean fields of northwest Ohio, she will live in a cottage and bike the 8-10 miles into town. “It’s definitely going to be a lot slower and a lot healthier,” she said.

“I look forward to experiencing all kinds of weather and being in a place where I can explore how we experience our notions of the sublime, as artists and as people,” she said. Guldbeck likens her recent work to that of the German Romanticists, in which the landscape tends to envelop human beings. “There’s an element of terror linked to the sublime,” she observed.

“It’s hard to be on that Romantic side in this day and age,” she acknowledged, “but maybe that longing for the sublime and intensified Romantic concentration on nature is a symptom of being alienated from nature. I want to see what is my relationship to that terror and that beauty and what comes out of it.”

Primarily a colorist, Guldbeck’s work reflects the natural world’s nonhierarchical systems and her perception that “out in nature, so many things happen at once.” Her paintings reveal themselves slowly to the viewer, each color and gesture making itself felt not as a single note but as parts of a chord. “I’m interested in the ‘tuning’ of color, and when it ‘sounds’ right I feel it here,” she says, gesturing to a spot just below the diaphragm.

Guldbeck’s concern with and connection to the environment have influenced her choice of medium as well. She works mostly on wood, in water-soluble casein pigments, which are derived from milk. Sometimes, as in her “Ghost Vertical II,” she burnishes the color until it glows and gains a depth that draws the eye into the painting.

In a break from her self-described “monastic studio practice” in Denmark, she will engage in a collaborative project with Danish painter Else Ploug Isaksen and hold a weeklong workshop and lecture series at the Aarhus Kunstakademi, a four-year art school. Just north of Odense, Aarhus is a center of the Nordic art scene, Guldbeck said.

In addition to the American-Scandinavian Foundation fellowship, Guldbeck recently learned she has been named the 2006 Roth Fellow and will receive a grant of up to $1,250 from the Lois Roth Endowment, based in Washington, D.C. The special award honors the late Sonja Bundgaard-Nielsen, the former executive director of the Denmark-America Foundation.

Connecting with fellow artists
The frequent emails and letters she has been receiving from Denmark since word of her upcoming fellowship got out are increasing her excitement, both personally and professionally. “The arts community is small and tightly knit,” she said. “Denmark is a real ‘hot spot’ for art right now, and there are many fabulous artists in the forefront of what’s happening in the art world.”

She is determined to widen awareness of that art scene, which is largely unfamiliar to Americans in part because of the great expense of shipping artwork to stage exhibits. Consequently, Danish artists’ work is not often shared or seen outside the country. The problem exists even for artists in the United States, Guldbeck said.

“I’m really hoping to create a faculty exchange, and I plan to work with Else (Ploug Isaksen) on developing those possibilities while I’m there,” she said. “That would help provide an international venue for those who may not have the ability to do it on their own.

“I also want to work on linking international organizations with Bowling Green,” she said. “Part of the emphasis and the mission of the American-Scandinavian Foundation is to encourage lasting ties between countries.”

August 14, 2006