Artist focus: John Kørner’s land of milk and honey

Steve Dinneen
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Organising Honey and Running Along Apples. Both Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London; © John Kørner

John Kørner is one of Denmark’s most recognisable contemporary artists, his semi-abstract works probing the ills of 21st century society, from poverty to sex work. Although he’s an accomplished sculptor, he’s best known for his vivid, ethereal, often wryly funny paintings: a man rifling through a skip in After Christmas; an old woman barfing against a vivid red sky in Sick (red); a sex worker prostrating herself on a beautiful tropical beach in Laiya.

His latest series of paintings, Apple Bombs, while still ruminations on the state of humanity, are less direct. Fruit is a recurring motif, often falling from shadowy war planes onto unsuspecting characters. In the titular painting a rotund bee-keeper lounges by an emptied apiary, oblivious to the apples falling like bombs around him. It seems to suggest both a land of plenty and a place at risk of being destroyed by its own excesses. In Organising Honey, another bee-keeper collects a rack of dripping honey while more apples rain down from above. Once again, he seems blissfully unaware of the gathering storm clouds.

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Others, like Running Along Apples, seem to resist literal decoding, and there’s pleasure to be derived from the juxtaposition of familiar items and the dreamlike swirl of colour. As Kørner has said: “The language that my paintings represent is the imaginary and the poetic. It is a very refined language which must be cared for and which I don’t want to destroy by supporting it with manifestos or interpretations. The painterly language I work with contains references to our shared reality. It uses familiar motifs... then isolate[s] these motifs within an abstract environment in a way that enables viewers, by means of a very simple symbolism, to work out for themselves the connection between these figures and the environment.”

• Apple Bombs runs at Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George St, London W1S 1FE, from 7 April until 14 May

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