Free as a Bird

February 2002

Publication: The Times

Inge Lise Westman paintings hover at the very edge of abstraction.  As a starting point she takes natural forms — mainly birds’ wings — and uses these as a way of exploring shapes and textures. Her images are big, bold and elemental, but focus on intense detail. For Westman, the bird is a symbol of spiritual freedom and aesthetic value, allowing her to demonstrate an affinity with the natural world.

These interests have developed from a passionate involvement with remote places,  such as  the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, her present home, which is characterised by its distinct landscape and rich bird life.  Proximity  to nature allows her to observe carefully and in great detail.

Westman’s husband is an ecologist who has worked in the former Danish colony of Greenland, where he has been responsible for re-introducing a species of bee, common in Viking times. This shared interest in fragile environments has fed back into Westman’s work, for she has used beeswax as a medium  in several of her works.  These recall,  amongst other things, Joseph Beuys’s interest in bees; Beuys was in turn inspired by Rudolph Steiner’s theories of the bee as a sacred model for society.

Westman cites Beuys as a seminal figure in her own development, because of his interest in the natural world.  However, behind her present style and concerns lies a training in graphic design, which might partky explain her interest in detail.  As well as wax, Westman uses other media to create her expansive works — charcoal, pastel, ink and a wide variety of collage material.

It was no accident that — as decoration at the preview of her exhibition — there should be a vase of ferns, not flowers. The similarity in form and structure between these plants and Westman’s imagery was all too apparent.  This connection recalled the work of D’Arcy Wentworth Thomson, the pioneering Scots botanist, whose seminal  work ‘On Growth and Form’ contributed so much to our understanding of morphogenesis.

Westman — politically active in the ‘70s — used to paint in a style which resembled the works of Joan Eardley by depicting under-privilege and poverty.  Westman’s work is now less overt but no less impassioned, for these are statements which celebrate the diversity and beauty of the natural world and by doing so make a fervent plea for its continued survival.

Recently Westman exhibited in a large group show at the Silkeborg Kunstcentret in Denamark, also entitled ‘Free as  Bird’.  Its multidisiplnary approach demonstrated  a curatorial brilliance, which amongst other things, acknowledged the bird as an enduring source of inspiration to artists.   Westman’s contribution included huge sculptures of bird-parts.  A couple of these, in the form of large feathers — one in wood, the other of iron — are also to be seen in Edinburgh, demonstrating the versatility of this gifted and sensitive artist.


Inge Lise Westman - Free as a Bird

Danish Cultural Institute

Doune Terrace


0131 225 7189

Until September 25