The Kampsax Suite
A loving couple riding a bull, mythical creatures born out of giant cornucopias and a mysterious astronaut travelling through the universe! These are just some of the motifs in Henry Heerup’s five monumental Kampsax paintings from 1970, which abound in bright colors, beloved symbols and classical mythology.
Henry Heerup (1907-93) created the life-affirming Kampsax suite as a decoration task for the newly built Kampsax Hall of residence (Kampsax Kollegiet) in Lyngby. The paintings, unveiled at the inauguration on June 21, 1970, were a special gift from the engineering firm which had also donated 2 million kroner for the construction of the dormitory in connection with the firm’s 50 year anniversary. The engineering firm, Kampsax, was internationally renowned for geographical information systems, mapping and road systems and was founded by Per Kampmann, Otto Kierulf, and Jørgen Saxild.
The Kampsax suite was one of the many major commissioned tasks that the popular artist performed in those years, often based on the idea that art should be an important part of ordinary people’s lives. At the inauguration itself, Jørgen Saxild also emphasized that the dormitory should be a place where living people should thrive and that the colors in Heerup’s paintings were so cheerful and the motifs so festive that they could not help but make the viewer cheerful.
In Heerup’s Kampsax suite, in addition to the beautiful colors and the ornamental visual language, there is also a very human, almost universal pictorial narrative about life, nature, love and imagination. The five paintings elegantly demonstrate Heerup’s ability to put together well known motifs such as the gnome, the egg, the tree of life and the horn of plenty in a kind of modern mythology about the relationship between humans and animals, nature and technology as well as fantasy and reality.
Through the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – Heerup casts a humorous and loving look at life between heaven and earth, inviting us to join him on a visual journey that goes straight to the heart, and art critic Pierre Lübecker described the Kampsax suite as “a wall-solid frieze of life, in which Heerup fully orchestrates his belief in progress, a strong and optimistic piece of visual art”.
As an 11 meters long frieze in the dormitory’s reception, the five colorful paintings formed a coherent room decoration in the architects Eva and Nils Koppel’s modern building. For many years, they were a gathering point and atmospheric backdrop for generations of students, before being deposited at Heerup Museum in 2003. In this year’s summer exhibition, visitors can finally experience the Kampsax suite up close when the five paintings are exhibited side by side for the first time and presented in dialogue with other Heerup works from the museum’s collection.