Jeannie Ozon Høydal

Sheep Collection

“Where Warhol chose to depict everyday commercial products and portrayed superstars like Marylin Monroe for their essential role in the modern American society and its culture, Ozon Høydal chooses the sheep…” Art Historian Erlend G. Høyersten
Museum Educator/Curator Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kristiansand



Surface and depth

“If you want to know everything about me, just look at the surface of my paintings. It's all there - there's nothing else.”

Andy Warhol

Warhol's statements were often peculiar and ambiguous, at times even unclear. The above statement could have been intended as a comment on the artist as both a public and a private person. It can also be read as an objection against the belief that one can read the person behind the art by studying method, technique and execution of his or her work. Warhol belonged to the movement that in art history is referred to as Pop Art. Pop Art is rooted in a figurative tradition, and may be seen as a reaction to the non-figurative art and abstract expressionism. On this basis, the statement can be read as an objection against abstract expressionism's dominance and agenda throughout the 1950s and large parts of the 1960s, since there were those who claimed abstract expressionism in painting to be the sedimentary deposits of the artist's subconscious.

The ambiguous peculiarity of Warhol's statements meets its equal in the visual output of Jeannie Ozon Høydal. Her images clearly display influences of Warhol and 1960s Pop Art, and yet she is equally inspired by the preceding non-figurative and expressive tradition.


Ozon Høydal works in extensive series, of which the sheep portraits is the most well known. There is something seemingly harmless, innocent and familiar about these images. The sheep are depicted sometimes in half, and other times in full figure. Only sparsely modeled, the figures have clear contours and often dark outlines. The cartoonlike execution, with a tendency towards flatness, can be compared to Pop Art and the work of Warhol. The portraits alternately depict the sheep individually and in groups.

Some of the portraits may be understood as paraphrases over Warhol's portraits. This comes across in titles like Homage to Andy Warhol. Her style and palette borrows many characteristics from Pop Art. This impression is further reinforced when she depicts the sheep as if they were idols. Where Warhol chose to depict everyday commercial products and portrayed superstars like Marylin Monroe for their essential role in the modern American society and its culture, Ozon Høydal chooses the sheep...

The portrayed sheep stare from the canvases. But this is not the empty stare we expect from sheep. If we look more closely, the sheep's facial features bely their various temperaments and charecters. Their gazes imbue the animals with pesonality, which in turn makes them appear human. In some of the portraits, this quality is enhanced through dressing the sheep in knitted wool sweaters and socks. When we eventually discover that the knitted garments and patterns are Norwegian home crafts, the conlusion that these charming but meek figures, which preferably travel in flocks, are indeed Norwegian.

At first sight, the portraits appear humorous and charming. This reflects modern man's sentimental relationship with animals. In terms of human characteristics, one could say that sheep represent something good-natured and solid, something stable. A fitting description of the Norwegian temperament, many people would say. At second glance, we discover the sting which accompanies the humor. The word "sheep" also invokes negative associations. The Norwegian expression "dum som en sau" means "dumb as a sheep". Sheep are images of meekness slowness. Flock mentality is also a behavioral characteristic typical of sheep. In everyday language, criticizing a group of people for their herd instinct refers to their lacking capacity for independent thought and action. Perhaps these images can be read as a commentary on Norwegian ways, both good and bad?


Ozon Høydal has also worked intensively on a series of colorful non-figurative images, in which circular fields and circles are important compositional features.
Technically and coloristically, Ozon Høydal's non-figurative paintings are closely related to her sheep pictures. The execution is at times graphical, yet we clearly see the traces of her brush and technique in the considerably thicker layers of paint. The colors are clear and bright. Bold and refined color combinations give these images an energetic and playful character, with references to abstract expressionism.

When abstract expressionism developed in the USA at the end of the 1940s, it came as a natural result of the development in painting which had taken place throughout the last century. While one earlier had focused on the importance of motif in the experience of art, the 19th century saw an increasing attention to the aesthetic means which the artist controlled. Shape and color, technique and material, in other words how the picture was painted, came more and more into focus, not least because many felt that it was these formal-aesthetic aspects which formed the basis for the aesthetic expression, and thereby the aesthetic experience. Development within painting moved toward the non-figurative. That meant the emergence of a non representational way of image making, i.e. art which did not depict anything, nor pretended to be anything other than itself - a painting. With Jackson Pollock and his abstract expressionism in the years around 1950, many felt that an extreme had been reached.

To the first generation of non-figurists, music as an aesthetic phenomenon represented an artistic ideal. In simple terms, music is a combination of sounds in a rhythmical pattern. Music does not represent anything. Still, of all the art forms, music may have the strongest and most immediate effect on people. The aim of several non-figurists was therefore to create a form of expression that resonated in the eye, the way music does in the ear.

And if there something Ozon Høydal's non-figurative images do, it is produce resonances in our eyes. The scale is major rather than minor, the tempo allegro more than piano, all in a style which is more jazz than classical.

The artists in Agder While Ozon Høydal's non-figurative series may be placed within an expressive painting tradition, and while her sheep portraits depict the outer world in an almost cartoonlike manner, with overt Pop Art references, her third major series is rooted in a form of realism.

The idea behind the series is to portray all the active artists in the Agder region of southern Norway. Based on encounters and photographic studies of the portraitees, their faces are rendered in closely cropped compositions. The likeness and character obervation is impressive and striking, although not always to the advantage of the subject. The expression could be described as a form of cool registration. She employs fresh colors in the backgrounds, although subdued, for example mint, apricot or pink.

This project is impressive both in terms of its scope and scale. But compared to other large towns and their surrounding areas, Kristiansand and the Agder region do not house a large number of artists. This makes the project manageable.

It is indeed a fascinating project. Not just because it spings from an original idea, but also because the presentation of the final result will be a formidable installation where the faces of all the artists are turned towards the public. This will arouse laughter as well as unease in the viewers. Significantly, the audience will feel as if they are the subject of study; is it their turn to be subjected to assessment, critique and possibly refusal?

Surface and depth

At first impression, Ozon Høydal's art has a clear aesthetic appeal, with its clear shapes and bold colors.

Her visual world is distinctly rooted in art history. We can view her work as paraphrases of styles and directions in art history, with references to specific artists. But she adds topicality through her choice of subject matter and original execution.

Her output can be described as vital, fresh and humorous, but her art goes beyound mere visual appeal: it can, and should, be read as a collection of commentaries. As such, it opens up a door to many ways of viewing.

Art Historian Erlend G. Høyersten
Museum Educator/Curator Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kristiansand

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