Marie Louise Kold’s first encounters with art go back to the earliest years of her childhood, where she learned, through her grandmother, Anna, how to feed her creative drive in her native Denmark. But an accidental discovery as a result of experimentation during art school, and a chance encounter with a Maltese lecturer in Holland – who many years later, as fate would have it, became her partner – led the talented metal artist to discover a passion for a raw material that is enthralling, and pretty uncharted territory.
Her art is fascinating, curious, physically challenging, and often dangerous for the artist herself, but it leads the viewer on a journey that is beyond the ordinary, and has Marie Louise hooked and excited in a way that is rare and genuine, and seldom so obvious for one to see in an artist. We meet at her apartment in Msida which she shares with her partner, illustrator and Head of the Media and Communications Department at the University of Malta, Ġorġ Mallia. Marie Louise’s art is displayed around their home, and while she’s got a variety of tools and materials to work with here in Malta, her studio is located in Sweden, and she splits her time between both countries.
Marie Louise Kold - Photo by Alan Carville
“Growing up, we lived in a small house in Denmark, and our nearest neighbours were my grandparents, who lived on a farm. From the moment I could walk, I would run in between the cows to get to grandma,” says Marie Louise of her earliest recollections linked to art. “My grandma would have never called herself an artist, but she was. She worked with clay and painted, we’d go for walks in the forest and pick stones, then paint on them – there were no boundaries, everything was possible. She had it in her, and thanks to her, creativity existed throughout my entire childhood.”
The artist moved to Sweden at the age of nine, and while she developed an interest for languages throughout her academic years, it was art that felt like the right direction for her to pursue. She went on to study architecture for one year in Copenhagen, and while it proved useful to her career, she realised that being an architect was not her calling, and concluded that she wanted to make art for art’s sake, rather than art for the sake of architecture. Marie Louise proceeded to study art for two years in Sweden, where she experimented with clay, concrete, model drawing, industrial design, and copper printing.
“With copper printing, the copper sheet is a tool, which you scratch or cover with a protective layer, then scratch into that resist (protective layer), and then place in an acid bath that etches into the copper. What you then have is a piece of metal with grooves, and when you rub oil paint onto it, the paint sticks where you scratched or etched. You then press the sheet against a piece of paper, and the final result is a copper print. I loved the process, and a few months after learning copper printing, I stumbled upon one of my first printing plates, and it was incredible – instead of a shiny, even surface with whatever I scratched or etched, there was depth and life in the plate, and I was so excited that I would get the best print ever. So I carried out the whole printing process, but the end result looked just like the first prints, and I realised that the changes that happened weren’t on the surface, so they couldn’t be transferred – they were in the metal.”
It was at that point, while Marie Louise was digging through her art school workshop looking for a hammer or tool of sorts, that she was love-struck by a piece of copper, which is when her journey as a metal artist began. Whatever project she had at art school from then on, metal would be present, and she hasn’t let go of it since, 20 years later. She experiments and works with copper and copper alloys brass and bronze, using different chemicals to discover how they react with the metals. “I didn’t just want to see what happens to these metals over time, but push those processes, and the deeper I delved into the art, the possibilities with these materials just grew and grew, and are more than I can ever take on!”
Marie Louise attended a course at Lund University to study archaeology, to learn how metals change once they’ve been touched, handled and left in the ground for thousands of years. She also studied bronze-casting, and in 2001, the artist felt she had obtained the necessary building blocks to start working professionally as a full-time artist. “Working as a full-time artist does not literally translate into making money – the first few years I was working 80-hour weeks, but they were financially disastrous. To do things right, however, you need to let the process take its course. Throughout my studies, I kept thinking to myself, ‘this has to work!’ It isn’t the only thing I can do, but it’s the only thing I want to do, so it had to work.”
And work it did. Marie Louise has gone on to host successful, international exhibitions and work on numerous high-profile and prestigious commissions, including a portrait she made in 2005, commissioned by the wife of the then US Ambassador to Denmark, created using close to 3,000 squares of individually patinated bronze. More recently, the artist was personally requested by Prince Daniel of Sweden to do a portrait of his daughter, Princess Estelle, which she made using etched and patinated copper, bronze and brass. The works are mysterious, intricate and absolutely enthralling.
“The reason I work with these three metals is because of what they have in common, which is how they age. Unlike rust on iron, which makes the metal disintegrate, the patina on copper is in many ways a protective layer. Copper is so alive – in some ways, I’m extremely Scandinavian in that I want to get from A to B with full control, but I’ve chosen the wrong material for that. Copper changes by itself, which is sometimes heavenly and other times disastrous to the point of it being ruined,” she explains. “Even after working with the same chemicals for 20 years, there are so many variables that I cannot predict the outcome. At times, I work with the aim of achieving a vibrant blue, and I get green. I cannot make the same work twice, which is good, but unpredictable outcomes can be very frustrating. It’s compensated for, however, when you make amazing discoveries – the other day, I got this electric, icy blue, which I didn’t even know copper could do!”
The colours that emerge on every work are a result of a reaction between the metal and the chemicals used. “It’s not paint or pigment, it’s just chemicals, and that’s where the personality of the metal comes into play, because that’s what decides which way this goes, and it’s different every time. I still use techniques from copper printing though – for instance, I etch text onto the metal itself, and one time, when I fished the metal out of the chemical bath, I found that it had etched all the way through, which resulted in large holes. Initially I thought it was ruined, but then I realised that it may be even better. If I were in full control, that wouldn’t have happened, and when it really works, these metals take me to places that I can’t even imagine.”
Marie Louise’s work is now also being represented by luxury interiors shop Camilleri Paris Mode in Rabat, and has been represented by Christine X Art Gallery for several years. Next May, the artist will be hosting an exhibition, EX LIBRIS, at the National Library, which she’s visibly thrilled about, featuring copper books with texts. “I’m fascinated by the books there – they are incredible national treasures, and I can truly say that I consider this exhibition to be a dream come true. I also have a solo exhibition coming up this September at a gallery in Lund, Sweden.”
Marie Louise is a visionary master of her own success, and besides possessing an immeasurable talent, she’s also got a respectable work ethic that balances artistic integrity with business acumen. “I now no longer need to work 80-hour weeks, although it’s still more than full-time, and I can actually refuse requests that are not good for the art. Artistic driving force is what makes me want to go to the studio, not making money. Not being skint is useful for the art in many ways, though, and I genuinely believe that profitability is really good for artistic integrity. But it’s all about the art. Always. And without compromise.