Poul Gernes’ life could hardly have been put together during his lifetime. For reasons of principle, this artist did not wish to be portrayed with any kind of biography. For Gernes, it was only the work that mattered. According to his way of thinking, the person behind the work was irrelevant to the case. However, to arrive at a clear understanding of his efforts, his own background is not entirely irrelevant.
He was born in 1925 into the home of a craftsman in Copenhagen. His father earned his daily bread as a shoemaker while his mother took care of the chores at home. At the age of eighteen, Poul Gernes became an apprentice to a lithographer. Without ever having received any other artistic training, he managed – already from his early years – to survive as an artist, with his income supplemented with teaching.
In 1961, Poul Gernes joined forces with art historian Troels Andersen to establish the radical Experimental Art School in Copenhagen, which was known as Eks-skolen for short, and quickly became an indispensable part of the Danish art scene. Characteristic of his work are the picture series from the 1960s and 1970s, that can be located somewhere between Minimalism and a Pop Art feel. In them, simple circles, letters, plain patterns or targets are varied. Gernes preferred to present them in complex room installations. In addition to producing paintings and sculptures, from 1977 onwards Gernes concentrated on the painting and interior decoration of public buildings, including the 25-storey hospital in Herlev on the outskirts of Copenhagen, (he had started this project already in 1968).