questioning the concepts of originality & authenticity

Artist Nicky Sparre-Ulrich explores the cross pollination of modernist and Moroccan culture through the exchange and appropriation of artistic style and aesthetics in his newest work ‘Apery.’

Published: February 1, 2017
Words: J.Scott Stratton
Photographs: David Stjernholm
Exhibition Details: Present – February 24, 2018
Gallery Link: gethercontemporary.com//

The blending of technique, style, materials, and mediums between cultural artisan craft and artistry is as timeless as cave drawings.

But with this appropriation of culture for the sake of creative expression – or even digging into the broader concept of “creative influence” – it leaves a lingering question of “what is authenticity?”

The School of Paris artists – Picasso, Matisse, etc. – developed some of their more well known figurative styles from and influence of African figurative sculpture. Art Nouveau artists and graphic designer, like Alfons Mucha, were influenced by a Japanese printing technique called ukiyo-e. And in this specific case – which Danish artist Nicky Sparre-Ulrich explores and pulls influence from for his newest collection of work – many of Modernist artists, architects, and designers drew influence from the geometric pattern-work of Moroccan carpet weavers.

The focus of Sparre-Ulrich’s was not to simply take the compositions of Moroccan carpet patterns, and blend it with the mantras and processes of Modernist artists like Piet Mondrian. The concept scratches deeper than that, as his newest collection of work APERY aims to punctuate the ideas of authenticity and originality.

Such as it is with any type of abstract art, it is almost essential that you enter into a relationship with the work with a pre-existing understanding of why it exists – lest it run the risk of being judged purely on aesthetics rather than conceptual depth.

The same can be said about Sparre-Ulrich’s newest work APERY. Once you understand the intention of the work, it becomes easy to get sucked into its rather blatant combination of Moroccan patterning techniques and the limited painting vocabularies popularised by Mondrian – the use of limited color palettes and block shapes that can only move either horizontal of vertically.

In APERY, Sparre-Ulrich uses the combination of influences to investigate the basic questions about art’s authenticity and origins and how the combinations of mantra, technique, and process can influence and lead to abstraction. I’m unsure whether the specific use of Moroccan and Modernist influences we merely a means to an end or purely an aesthetic choice, as there are countless examples of cultural and creative appropriation that Sparre-Ulrich could have referenced in his exploration of this concept. Although, I don’t feel his limitation to this specific reference detracts from his overall goal.

If Abstraction is a form of representing a specific question – which, if successful, will lead the viewer down a path towards further consideration and inquiry – then I do believe that the conceptual premise behind APERY succeeded. It left me with more questions to ponder – not in regards to his work, but in regards to what the work represents.

In my opinion, these questions of “what is authenticity?” and “what is original?” are far too ethereal and subjective to lay the burden upon a single collection of work to try and answer, and I hope to see further development from Sparre-Ulrich on this idea.