Asger Jorn (1914-73), The Wheel of Life. (January Picture from the 'Suite of Seasons'), 1953
This picture has its point of departure in a motif often appearing in Danish medieval church murals: The wheel of life, presenting the stages of life from cradle to grave around a wheel. In the Middle Ages, the wheel of life had a moralising objective: it served as a reminder that our luck can turn and that death is inevitable.
An interpretation of the wheel of life
Jorn’s take on the wheel of life is free of any moral subtexts. It is concerned only with the cycle of life: first the creation of life and the ascent towards the sun and moon in the middle of the composition, then adulthood at the top of the picture, and finally a descent back to the ground and death, the source of new life.
”It forms a circle”, Jorn explained. ”It might look rather confused, but in actual fact it is all very carefully composed. I have included two large spectral circles in the picture; obviously, they contain all colours – as indeed they should, because this is about every aspect of life.”
Jorn's return to life
The first version of The Wheel of Life was created at Silkeborg Sanatorium, where Jorn was a tuberculosis patient. When declared to be on the mend by the doctors and allowed to paint again in 1951, the wheel of life was the first subject he addressed, marking his own personal return to life. The picture was originally intended as one canvas in a series of twelve, but he ended up focusing on certain months while others were ignored altogether.