During the 1960s, Heerup enjoyed considerable popularity. He carried out a vast amount of commissions and embellishments, including quite a few portraits of e.g. Jørgen Jørgensen, formerly minister for education (1963), Professor Mogens Fog (1964), Knud W. Jensen (1966–67), museum director, and Børge H. Jensen, formerly minister for social affairs (1968).

In the public space, too, Heerup was in demand. In his capacity of sculptor, he created the sculpture group near the Customs and Excise building, now the Amaliehaven Gardens (1960–62), the embellishment at Bispebjerg (1962), and at the youth centre Vesterbro Ungdomsgaard (1963), Heerup’s Garden in Esbjerg (1964), and the sculpture group for the Hareskoven motorway (1969). Granite was forthwith close to Heerup’s heart and his unique appreciation of simple forms appeared attractive to many people. In his workbook Min Arbejdsbog from 1966, Heerup made the following comments on his sculptural stone work:

’The nature of stone, its strength and gravity exude respect and only by means of love is it possible to overcome the resistance which it puts up when working it. Granite is ’Nature’s hardboiled eggs’ and precisely in this material, stone sculpture has to be a union of the will of nature and that of the artist. The attraction of stone lies in the fact that it, with its form and colour, shows me what I want to see. A multitude of organic forms hide there, waiting to be born.’[1]

The respect for nature’s materials and essence was never far away. The primeval power of rock was part and parcel of Heerup’s processes and his untraditional work methods were characterised by an almost romantic attitude to hard physical work. In 1963, Heerup created a totem pole in a backyard in Nyhavn. With great respect for nature’s materials, he reused demolished wooden poles for his almost six-metre sculpture of an American Indian chief with a naked woman standing on his shoulders. The design as well as the original location underlines man’s pact with his surroundings. The American Indian is, like the sculptor, an image of the physical and creative human being and this figure, along with the theme of lovers, is a much-used theme – also in Heerup’s paintings. Today, the totem pole from Nyhavn stands in front of the Heerup Museum – in memory of Heerup’s contribution to art.

The interest in Heerup’s multifarious pictorial universe culminated e.g. with Virtus Schade’s book about Heerup in 1967, in which Schade’s fascination with the artist as ‘(…) a poet of changing forms. Always in love, paying tribute to diverse sides of art and life’[2] puts Heerup’s life’s work into perspective. A few years later, J. Roos and Jens Jørgen Thorsen released the short film portrait ’Et år med Henry’ (A Year with Henry) which, using experimental colours and editing, documents the artist’s original persona and processes.

Heerup was now a mature artist in his own right, firmly established at home and internationally. With his friend Carl-Henning Pedersen, he was selected to represent Denmark at the Venice Biennale in 1962 and he showed at major exhibitions abroad, including the World Exhibition in New York in 1964, the São Paulo Biennial in 1965, and at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1967 as well as an extensive travelling exhibition of CoBrA art in the USA. In 1966, Heerup was awarded a lifelong grant from the Danish Arts Foundation. He decided to use the money to set up the Heerup Grant which – then as now – is meant to benefit young artists. Heerup had everything he needed and his modest lifestyle did not change in tandem with his growing popularity.

The following year, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art arranged a major retrospective in celebration of Heerup’s sixtieth birthday. The museum looked back at his contribution to Danish art and Heerup himself also looked back. In his popular lithograph portfolio Legedage (Days of Play) from 1969, Heerup very energetically interprets anecdotes and memories from his Nørrebro childhood.

[1] Henry Heerup: Min Arbejdsbog, p. 16

[2] Virtus Schade: Heerup, p. 66