Asger Jorn painted Myr og Mo (Myra and Mo) at a critical turning point in his life and career. Since 1948 he had been involved in the Belgian-Dutch-Danish CoBrA movement, together with Constant, Karel Appel, Corneille, Christian Dotrement and Joseph Noiret. His collaboration with these Dutch and Belgian artists and the extensive travel to Europe which it entailed steered Jorn away from experimentation and towards his own unique style.
This shift, however, was not inspired entirely by professional circumstances. Constant and Jorn had found good friends in one another in 1948, but by 1949 their relationship was strained: Jorn had left his wife Kirsten for Constant’s wife, Matie, whom he married the following year. They bore two children together: Ole and Bodil. At the same time Jorn had fallen into a state of utter poverty, living on coffee and cigarettes so that his children could have enough to eat. His physical condition deteriorated at a rapid pace from 1949 to 1951 due to undiagnosed tuberculosis. By the time Jorn had moved from Islev near Copenhagen to Suresnes, on the outskirts of Paris, he was well aware of his illness but deliberately ignored it: ‘to become reconciled to illness is the hardest thing to ask of anyone who comes from one of the Nordic countries,’ he once wrote. ‘Over there healthiness is the great and (today I have the courage to say it) sick dream’ (G. Atkins and E. Schmidt, Bibliografi over Asger Jorns skrifter til 1963, Copenhagen 1964, p. 10). When he returned to Denmark, his mother reported, he had tuberculosis, scurvy, and could barely walk (V. Schade, Asger Jorn, Copenhagen 1965, p. 109).
The works Jorn composed during this period are emotive and unrestrained. Their distorted faces and figures are formed out of violent brushstrokes and clashing colours. His portraits, such as that of Matie painted in 1950-1951, appear more as representations of emotions evoked by a person than as any formal depiction of the individual herself. Myr og Mo shares much in common stylistically with Matie (Constant’s Wife). Painted on a large canvas, the title refers to two people but the artwork seems depict to more figures with every glance. Faces and bodies emerge from within one another or from the background.
The creation of Myr og Mo coincides with a period of Jorn’s career that anticipated an active quest for new hopes, goals, and forms of expression. Around the time of the last CoBrA exhibition in 1951, a bedbound Jorn wrote to Constant, ‘I see that CoBrA went from bad to worse. All the same I think we were onto something there… I ask myself, Who won? We? The surrealists? Or the careerists? […] Perhaps it’s no longer possible to fight for art in a common cause. Perhaps everything that can be done has been done already …’ (Letter from Asger Jorn to Constant, quoted in J. Jørgen Thorsen, Modernisme I dansk kunst, specielt efter 1940, Copenhagen 1965, pp. 106-107).
The present work represents a part of Jorn’s artistic development from 1948 to 1953, leading up to his monumental seven-part cycle The Silent Myth (1951-53). It is painted in the style the artist conjured at the time of one of his greatest personal struggles, revived again for the attentive viewer through its size, vibrant colours and powerful forms.