Debbie Kruger
Headline and photo of Jorgen Bechmann
November 22-23, 1986



Jorgen Bechmann sees himself not as an artist but as a picture-maker.

It’s fine if people think my pictures are art,” he says. “But I prefer it if they buy a picture because they like it for itself.”

Danish-born Bechmann, 41, has in a short time gained recognition as one of Australia’s most promising painters and printmakers.

His clients include Bob Hawke and Kerry Packer, big companies and hotel chains. His new book out this week, Modern Australian Dreamtime, will enable many more to become familiar with his work.

Bechmann’s images are bold, graphic, colourful scenes of Australia, conveyed with a deceptively simple but sophisticated European air.

His background is in furniture design. After training in Denmark he worked in the Middle East, and then moved on to the US, the Caribbean and Canada.

When he returned to Denmark in 1970 he opened the first contemporary print gallery in Copenhagen. He arrived in Australia with his family in 1980.

After opening an ultra-modern visual arts gallery in Adelaide, Bechmann moved to Sydney and opened a Danish Design Centre.

“But I started off on the wrong foot,” he says with a reflective smile. “I thought Australia was more modern than it is. Today it is spreading, but I was a little bit early. I lost a lot of money.”

He slowly got back to painting, but concentrated on importing prints to complement his furniture designs. He built up a good clientele of architects, one of whom needed a series of paintings for a restaurant – in two weeks. With no time to select and import from overseas, Bechmann had to come up with the goods himself.

Before long he had “retired” from the Danish Design Centre to concentrate fully on his own pictures.

Bechmann’s enthusiasm for the Australian landscape and wildlife is boundless. In his foreword to Modern Australian Dreamtime, Peer Lindholt says: “I had shot galahs for eating my almonds, run over kangaroos on the highways and lost my protective attitude towards crocodiles. But in Jorgen, the wonderment only grew.”

Bechmann hopes to rekindle the imagination of Australians with his book, to provide people with a new insight into their own land. The idea originated from Bechmann’s fascination with the Aboriginal Dreamtime legends.

“I started being inspired by all the legends and doing pictures based on the stories. But I quickly found I could not relate to 40,000 years of history myself. So I began to write my own stories.”

His new legends are startlingly original. Each is represented by a painting or screenprint and is accompanied by a written story.

The Dreamtime stories are the result of considerable work and research but they, like his pictures, succeed for their profound simplicity.

The Rainbow Lorikeet is a recurring image. Bechmann explains in a series of pictures and stories how a group of dull grey birds first obtained their colours from the rainbow after a torrential storm. Now, not even a raging storm can reverse their feathers to grey, but in captivity they will lose their colours which will reshape into a rainbow.

His legend of the creation of the Sydney Opera House relates to a simple butterfly flittering across Joern Utzon’s drawing paper, inspiring the curves of the famous piled sails.

Bechmann’s distinctive style is as striking as Ken Done's, and the potential for the same commercial success is there. But he has deliberately held back.

In his bright Manly studio he has displays of cards, photographs and stationery featuring his pictures. These are samples for clients and not the beginning of a huge marketing campaign.

He does not totally dismiss the possibility of an overt assault, but he is modest about his speedy rise in this country and wary of over-kill.

His plans for the immediate future include an exhibition of the Dreamtime pictures in Copenhagen – in a church designed by Utzon, whom Bechmann knows; and exploring more of Australia, especially north Queensland and the Northern Territory.

He still dabbles in furniture design, and the prominent feature of his studio is the “Dreamtime Table” – a series of large marble clouds which can be rearranged in various formations. Bechmann is a mixture of the business-minded realist, the serious artist, and the dreamer with his head in the clouds. He is here to stay.

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