by Cila Brosius
Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen
Johan Deckmann is a Copenhagen-based artist, practicing psychotherapist and author, whose works examine the complications of life through witty one-liners painted on the covers of fictional “self-help” books. These book titles, though often filled with scathing satire and humour, tackle life’s biggest questions, fears, and absurdities.
Recognizing the power of language in both therapy and art, Deckmann successfully forms simple phrases that compress information, feelings or fantasies into an essence, and a truth that has an effect that is very similar to therapy. “The right words can be like good medicine,” Deckmann shares. While most of his book titles skirt between hilarious and poignant, underscored by their faded color and worn texture of 1970s era self-help guides, the readers are taken through a journey of self-reflection and soul-searching as they scroll through the entirety of Deckmann’s work. The artist explains that his psychological practice has great influence on his art, not only by serving as a tremendous inspiration for the content of his works, but also as a constant reminder of personal responsibility. “I meet many people who suffer from a circumstance that they themselves have created but they choose not to take action,” he explains. “I think it’s tragicomic that underneath our frustration and self-slavery lies this beautiful opportunity.”
One of the most powerful aspects of Deckmann’s works is that every reader can relate to at least one them on a highly personal level, regardless of what cultural background, gender or age group. Titles such as “How to disappoint and just keep disappointing – Disappointment made easy” can resonate with anyone, but instead of remaining sinister, the work is made humorous by using the same language that you might find on a cook book or instruction kit. “How to burn out instead of fade away” might be most fitting for people that live in big cities under pressure, and, perhaps: “How to keep doing the same old mistakes and expect a different result” could be considered the most universally human of all one-liners.
The artist often adds another layer of meaning to his pieces by juxtaposing small and large books to one another in the form of satirical diptychs. For instance, the viewer will look upon a small book for “Good things I want really bad” and a much larger volume of “Bad things I want little more” just beside it. The small volume of “Things I will not put up with,” next to the large volume “Things I put up with” expresses an even more bitter reality, and the simple juxtaposition of a very large volume of “Expectations” and a much smaller volume of “Reality” is especially poignant.
There are some books the viewer might be truly tempted to open, but the artist glues all of them together before painting them with phrases and sometimes silhouetted pictures to accompany them – It is therefore completely up to the viewers to imagine their content.
Some titles serve as a beautiful visualization of unobtainable wishes, such as a book titled “All the dreams that you forgot,” sparking a number of ideas and inspirations within each individual viewer that are much more valuable than any content these books could contain.
On yet another level, Deckmann uses other materials to give his pieces further meaning, such as an LP cover titled “The very best of the voices in my head” or the juxtaposition of smaller and larger suitcases labeled “Baggage” and “Emotional Baggage.”
One of Deckmann’s latest projects is a series of large-scale paintings, which will add on even further to these different approaches.
Strongly influenced by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Bourgeois, Deckmann says “I want my works to be like mirrors. When you look at them you might not like what you see but like a mirror, you now get the awareness and the chance to change something. People often respond That’s me! That’s what I do to myself! Why do I do that?” He continues “I think that making art helps me to be more defined as a psychotherapist. In one way, I distill my thoughts in my works and it makes me very sure of my view on things.”
Deckmann’s works have been exhibited around the world since he began the series in 2015, including Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, two shows in New York, Museum Arp and Joseph Gross Gallery in Los Angeles in 2019.
Johan Deckmann debuts with his first published book in Danish in 2018. His studio is located in central Copenhagen a few minutes from Tivoli Gardens and Carlsberg.