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"About zonation"
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© Hans Jørgen Henriksen zonering.dk

About zonation

The modern abstract painting started with Cézanne. Cézanne wanted to let the painting seal the existing. Hereby Cézanne’s paintings became nature and object. Zonation is a proposal for an object-oriented post-Cézanneian painting process, spontaneous and considered at the same time.

By Hans Jørgen Henriksen (de Hansi)

Art is an continous process of reconciling multiplicity by overall unity

Zonation paintings, a word I have coined, when I started to do painting exhibitions 20 years ago (in 2001) focus on integrating and balancing the four elements: lines, tones, colors and emotion.

I follow a figurative-abstract-expressionist philosophy of painting inspired by masters like Cézanne, Kleé and followers. My motives are inspired from Copenhagen, croquis, and southern European places most often inspired from Lanzarote and Toscana cities and landscapes. 

Zonation painting is more than just lines, tones and colours it is also deep learning. In the zonation painting I search for the beaty, the aesthetics, a higher form of integration of lines, tones and colours, for which there are rules, but not any single set of rules. In my zonation painting, I do not attempt either the abstract or the figurative, I allow both to interact in the same artwork.

What counts in zonation painting is the pictorial organization by virtue of neo-cubistic shapes, chromatic modulations and variations in brush strokes which unify the entire composition, in a continous process of reconciling multiplicity by overall unity. 

As a hydrologist the freshwater cycle is a fundamental part of the 'Critical zone' human beings and other living species on Earth are dependent of. If the freshwater cycle gets out of 'order', say if human being do not manage to walk away from the business as usual scenarios (RCP 8.5). Zonation painting therefor is also my small, subjective contribution to UN development goals and effort to combate climate emissions, deterioration of biodiversity etc., in order for human being to 'land on the blue planet' as highlighted by the ongoing art exhibition ZKM Karlsruhe 'Critical Zones'  https://zkm.de/en .

In this way zonation painting is my opportunity to mix, mingle and deep learn about hydrology, psychology og organization and artistic expression often with a focus on environment, climate change and urban spaces.

First oil paintings 

One of the first oil paintings I made in 1982 was an immitation of one of the french painter Cézanne's paintings "Château de Médan" from around 1880. I had read Herbert Read's: ”A concise history of modern painting” (1974), who described how the late Cézanne became a doubter and began to isolate himself from the neoimpressionists, which he was part of. Cézanne wanted to see the world: ”without any intervention either of the mind or the untidy emotions”. 

Herbert Read explains convincingly how Cézanne developed his focus on realisation and modulation. First Cézanne selected a motive, it could be a landscape, bathers or a portrait. Next, according to Cézanne, it is the artists challenge: ”to bring into being his visual apprehension of his motif; and in this process to lose nothing of the vital intensity that the motif possessed in its actual existence” (Read, 1974 p16).

Cezanne had the understanding, that the task of the artist was, to bring order in the human perception’s chaos. A mutual balancing of the color zones of the picture. The depth and the surface of the motive should become visible with clarity. Hereby the painting process with Cézanne became a construction ”after the nature”, a realisation of the motive. Cézanne’s doubt should later turn out to become the break through of the modern painting. Cézanne chose to blow artistic fanfare for modulation. Cézanne defined modulation as: ”Modulation means rather the adjustment of one area of colour to its neighbouring areas of colour, a continuous process of reconciling multiplicity with an overall unity”. 

Grewing up near a river 

I grew up in Western Jutland, near a river, with its water flow and transport, running down the year round. This early ”being” closely linked to the water cycle, I guess, influenced my painting. At the same time the rythm of the flowing water and the mystique of understanding the rivervalley and the flow also influenced the educational direction I chose. First as a civilengineer (specialized in hydrology and hydraulics). Later in my practice as a working hydrologist (now with 25 years of experience within the field of hydrology and modelling).

My own practical experience started with hydrometry and methods for measurement of flow in rivers. Later I began to explore groundwater modelling, and subsequently, I focused on modelling of the interactionen between groundwater and surface water exchange on a catchment scale. Recently, the challenge of integrating knowledge from modelling and monitoring became a new research fields, and how to best involve stakeholders in the decision making process and adaptive & resilient water management. This moves me toward a growing interest for better understanding the human factor as part of management of natural resources.

In 2006, I finalised a master degree in Psychology of Organisation (MPO) at RUC.

Populated equation 2001de Hansi: Populated equation 2001


Allow landscape to take on form 

In order to illustrate what this means for my paintings, I have decided to propose a novel concept: "ZONATION" for characterizing my approach in painting.

This means that ”Zonation” as a painting process is about allowing the urban landscapes to take on form, subjectively edited by the artist in coal, acrylics or oil on canvas, a form which can give room for fantasy, and activate the viewers diverse perceptions. Cézanne was my first inspiration, later cubism and abstract realism, became new centres of motivation for me. But art is reaction and deconstruction, more than it is evolution. As Herbert Read phrases it: "In art, a school once established normally deteriorates as it goes on". And art is more than just lines, colours and tones, more than 2-D, art transmit emotions and evoke feelings, and moves the intellect.

In my recent exhibtions I have used the term 'ecozones-in-the-mind' when I talk about zonation paintings. One of the characteristics of this beginning of the new millenium is thanks to social networks, new media and information technology, people are increasingly connected to each other everywhere and everytime. Not as before in interpersonal relationships, but rather as relatedness in the global network society. Organisations has become "bricks without mortar". With Covid-19 pandemia we work from home, and attempt to organize what is left by virtual meetings.

Mental models are the back bone of all expressionist painting. With eco-zones-in-the-mind I believe that the ideas and intentions behind the paintings are more important than an accurate representation of the urban landscape. 

An example from hydrology: zonation as a metafor for groundwater protection

Let me illustrate the above suggestions with an example. I use zonation as a term picked up from other areas, from contemporary groundwater protection activities in Denmark, where authorities and waterworks in these years are mapping the vulnerable areas, which need additional groundwater protection, in order to be able assure future clean driking water resources abstracted from the groundwater system (Cézannes motif).

This work was initiated around the year 2000 in order to identify the most vulnerable areas exposed to nitrate and pesticide leaching, threatening the future drinking water quality (a modulation). This task was not simply a modelling task based on existing data, the task definately also included collection of comprehensive data sets, mapping by use of geophysical methods and assessments based on validated models and data financed by a fee put on the per cubic meter consumed drinking water in the household. 

The purpose was to establish vulnerable zones delineated based on this set of objective criteria. The focus point in the zonation of groundwater was the important wellfields and upstream capture zones within the catchment area, where the renewable groundwater are recharged and formed. The need for this integrated picture of the recharge capture areas can be understood, by imagening that the quality of the future raw groundwater abstracted at the wellfield depend of the partial contributions from different subareas (equaling integration of motif, modulation and focus point), including the well near protection zone.

It is not my agenda here to questionise this national groundwater zonation project. The intention behind the nationwide zonation project, is to create an order in the messi and complex nature, a basic fundament for sound groundwater protection, which is as efficient as possible. An important piece of work, an attempt to "enlighten" the subsurface in order to understand and illustrate the water cycle (below the surface) as an integral part - in exchange and interaction with surface water. Protecting and documentating the sustainable exploitation of the valuable drinking resource for future generations, thus became the crystalized goal of this nationwide collaborative action. 

                    Human relations 2001de Hansi: Human relations 2001

We should here recall Cézannes way of thinking urging painters to try to integrate the object and to keep a focus on the field (the ontology) seen from within our mental model. Here Cézannes doubt become interesting. Cézanne not only changed painting but he also created new ideas, which here more than 100 years later seems quite appealing and help us to begin to understand the full implications if Cezánnes work for painting, namely the need for handling uncertainty and ambiguity.

Perceptual traces and projective rooms

”The french philosopher Gaston Bachelard has said: A complete cast solid picture paralyse the fantasy… A picture, giving a hint of and including non told elements in its storey, bring the viewer in a condition of tension, which convey the fantasy… This counts not only in pictural art. It counts in general and especially in the modern world, that our perceptions is build on real elements, which are integrated to a whole by our experience and fantasy…

As the Danish psychologist Steen Visholm explains it, it is possible to summarize this with the concepts of perceptual traces and projective rooms. Maurice Merleau-Ponty here saw an important purpose with analysis of mental models, which on an intuitive basis, attempted to describe the exchange between the future and the past. By looking at the past, it became easier to understand the meaning of the future (a gigantic projective room), and by looking at the future it also became easier to understand the meaning of the past.

The psychodynamic system theory used the term ”here and now” for this, corresponding to the fact, that face to face meetings in the present moment are vital for human collaboration, situations where the past, the future and the now moment can become linked and can generate our new perceptions, languages, meanings, beliefs and emotions.

According to Merleau-Ponty, it was Cezannes intention, that he: ”wanted to depitch matter as it takes on form…Cézanne did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, between order and chaos. He did not want to separate the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear; he wanted to depict matter as it takes on form, the birth of order through spontaneous organization... He makes a basic distinction between the spontaneous organization of the things we perceive and the human organization of ideas and sciences. We see things; we agree about them; we are anchored in them; and it is with ‘nature’ as our base that we construct our sciences. Cézanne wanted to paint this primordial world” (Merleau-Ponty, 1964).


de Hansi: Psychodynamic spring and Indirect from my hearth 2007

Phenomenological learning 

Cézanne imagined a new form which was phenomenological: ”The landscape thinks itself in me…and I am its consciousness”. Cézannes wished for the picture to become nature and not simply a matter of depicted nature, and this is not only remarkable for Cézanne, it is also a key attribute for many of his followers e.g. the New York school abstract expressionists and the german abstract expressionists.

Some of my urban landscape paintings reminds people of the towns behind the Iron Curtain back before the fall of the Berlin wall - belonging to the tabu laden cold war environments of Eastern Europe, or closed societies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Others have traces from country towns.

Boggy ground 2004de Hansi: Boggy ground 2007


Present moment 2007 de Hansi: Present moment 2007

German expressionism and the artworks of Paul Klee 

One of the followers of Cézanne, Paul Klee, has further inspired my suggestion of zonation painting. Paul Klee joined des Blaue Reiters group in Munich in 1910. Later Klee joined the architecht art group Bauhaus in Dresden. In a dialogue with Kadinsky, Paul Klee in the book "On modern art" provided an interesting theory about art as form which grows, something created by the artist working at the trunk and roots of the three, transmitting his art as a chanel, where the task of the artist simply is to gather and to express what comes to him "from the depth".

The artist do not serve neither do he rule, but he transmits. The beauty at the top of the three is not created solely by the artist, the artist is only a chanel, by which line, tone and color are communicated and formed as the formal factors of expression. Here the line is "measurement" (length, angle, radius and focus distance). Color is tone - chiaroscuro - which is the various degrees of black and white which is mixed into the colors applied on canvas, an element which Klee characterized as "weight", and where the different color shapes has to be balanced against each other, and against the white background, or the black background or another grey norm selected.

The third factor - color - has other characteristicas compared to line and weight, because color can not be measured or weighted, color is quality! But in addition color is at the same time weight, because it is formed as a color with a certain tone. And color is measurable, because in addition to its quality and weight it also have a form, a deliniation, an area, which can be measured and which has to follow some mathematical or basic forms e.g. like an arabesque.

Ambiguity in natural sciene - Cézannes's doubt again

Ambiguity is a particular type of uncertainty that occurs where different all equally valid perceptions exist.

At that time, the usual way of managing water resources was under change. An example of the new paradigm was explored in the EU research project NeWater which was about adaptive integrated water resources management (adaptive IWRM). This led to the systematic identification of uncertainties associated with IWRM (epistemic, aleatory and ambiguity), and the role of ambiguity began to come under the spotlight, perhaps because implementing the Water Framework Directive proved difficulties in practice. It should soon become clear that mental models were the key point. I participated in studies of La Mancha in Spain where we looked at conflicts with irrigation and dried up wetlands in the Guadiana river basin. This led to a concrete testing of new ways to identify uncertainties in IWRM. We began to realize that the modeling of water resources might not be enough in itself, there was also the need to take care of how to communicate messages and how different stakeholders perceived the problem and its solutions, and how decision making is strongly dependent on our mental models.

In NeWater this was referred to as social learning, that is, learning in order to find new ways of looking at the problem and thus identify innovative solutions which subsequently can be mainstreamed back into the regular water management (by double or tripple loop learning) in order to pave the way for collective decisions. We began to understand that there was a need for a special interface between the advanced technical models used in natural science, and the workshop methods, which are mainly based on organizational psychology, anthropology and human sciences, trying to deal with our percieved risks and mental models.While the literature on uncertainty was rich, it was more difficult to understand ambiguity. In the beginning the focus was on different strategies for dealing with ambiguity e.g. rational problem solving, persuasion, dialogical learning, negotiation and oppositional modes of action. We understood that we could bring sense into "group model building" when using multi-objective optimization with Bayesian networks. It was important to better communicating and dealing with ambiguity, in order to choose more efficient adaptive strategies and integrate different types of knowledge.

As in Cezanne's doubt, focus was on the process and how to deal with ambiguity as a driver for innovation more than simply reducing ambiguity. But we also recognized that if you really need something more than just ad hoc adaptation, transformation requires that you better enable the development of future scenarios and incorporate the normative wishes and goals for the future. Art is to realise a new world-view 

Zonation, psychoanalysis and modern painting have something in common. As expressed by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard it is a question of "loosing foothold for a moment", to allow the new to emerge and happen, and then to let the painting take on form as suggested by Paul Klee.

Let me finalise this introduction with a quotation from Peter Fuller (1980): Art and psychoanalysis: "Although the modern movement failed, for reasons we have already explored, to realise a new 'world-view' through painting, in the work of Cezanne himself and of at least some of his successors - e.g. Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Bonnard, Klee, and later De Kooning - it did re-introduce to painting an aspect which had been absent from it, or at least heavily muted, during the era of the dominance of professional fine artists.

These early modernist painters certainly acknowledged the external otherness, the separateness and 'outhereness' of the outside world, but having acknowledged it, they sought to transfigure and transform it, to deny, or otherwise to interrupt it, as a means of expressing subjective feelings too. Their new forms emerge as neither an indulgence nor an escape from the world, but rather as an extension into an occluded area of experience".

From expressionism to neo-romanticism
In recent years I have moved from an abstract expressionist position towards a figurative-expressionist, lyrical painting style which I have coined zonation painting, using an artistic process rich in spontaneity, free association and the senses, has been influence by Cezanne and his followers and by psychodynamics. Psychodynamics help artists to tune in, stay with objects and create art avoiding defensive traps and being in passion. After having started with water colour and drawings, I began working in oil for a series of works taking influence from geology and arabesques. Soon my inspiration turned towards abstract expressionism before I became interested in post-impressionism.

Cézanne, Klee and their followers influenced works focusing on motives from Copenhagen city landscapes in which I adopted an almost tonalist style, with emphasis on aesthetic integration of lines, tones and colours. I am now working with acrylics toward and expressionist and figurative direction, as explained with the three first figurative, abstracted-figurative and abstract examples of my zonation paintings. In my most recent serie I work with the dialectics between figuration and abstraction inspired by paintors as e.g. Nicolas de Staël and Tim Eitel. 

In my most recent paintings, I use a 3-step approach. First, I create a multicolored background of organic, monochrome fields. Then I add an intermediate layer of horizontal spatel strokes and typically in blue-green suits that form a kind of persistent dynamic (cyclical) flow across the canvas. In the process, I use gel and acrylic colours with varying drying speeds to facilitate an optimal mixing of colors from the background and from the middle layer. In the third step, I highlight primary forms (e.g. human figures), or secondary shapes (e.g. geometry, houses, cities, etc.). These figurative elements are important in that they help to create relations between man and the water circuit - a kind of inner monologue in the works, and at the same time necessary for underlining the visual wholeness of the work.

With the latest series: Water People and I Corona's characters, water and man are in focus. The series emphasizes that nature and culture are interdependent, and has been since the first humans on earth. In a time of climate change and the corona, it is as if the water cycle and nature expand like the universe, and it creates wonder and concern in modern man. Therefore, many of my images are about the relationship between the water cycle and man.

Under the corona virus, we cultivate the close, our family and ourselves. We go out into nature and worship it like a church. Inadvertently, we have moved in the direction of the neo-romanticism which might be another word for 'zonation painting'. But as I have expressed on our research institute (GEUS's 'we rock staffet)': "We must think in terms of natural resources and sustainability. It is about keeping the overall footprint of our consumption within the planetary boundaries (water, biodiversity, greenhouse gases etc.). We're been driving on business as usual (RCP8.5 climate scenario) for as long as I can remember, we're driving in the doughnut's overtaking lane and are heading for more scary tangents. What we before feared would happen in 50 or 100 years are happing now in terms of flooding and drought. Welcome to the climate crisis, it is here! This means that the focus shifts from climate change adaptation (CCA) to disaster risk reduction (DRR)".




Read a very short summary of my ideas in International Contemporary Artists, Vol. II, 2011 (page 101):




Read review article from Gallery&Studio April/Maj 2010: https://zonering.dk/xpdf/p-32-pdf-file.pdf

  Taplinger, Maurice (2010) "Zonation" in the Art of Hans Jørgen Henriksen.

Gallery&Studio, April/May 2010. Vol. 12 No. 4. Page 22. New York. 

Drawing 3 July 2008 H.J. Henriksen: Drawing 3 July 2008