Morten Angelo, a well-known sartorialist adman-turned-artist, opens up about the need for failure and second chances as we work through the maze of life. We discuss the differences in how Danes and Americans take care of people, and the benefits of travel: a way to get lost and move through the world unnoticed, until you return to the people and comfortable expectations that await you at home.
How long have you been in your loft?
I’ve been here for about two and a half years. I do some private dining here as well. I cook myself and have about 20 people for dinner. It’s mostly business people who want to have a meeting and want to have a private evening here and then they just make sure that they get some lovely food and they can behave like they want to.
Are you a trained chef?
I’m totally a homegrown chef, but I cook very well.
What are your parties like?
It’s a room that calls for a party, so it’s very lively. I started a week after I moved in because I had all my stuff in one corner and someone said to me, “Why don’t you have a big party?” and it became a kind of success and it went from month to month.
You’re from Denmark, but you’ve tried to move away?
I was born and grew up in Denmark. I tried once to move my life away, but I didn’t succeed. I was afraid in some way. Maybe it’s because of my Danish mentality.
I like to visit New York on occasion but when it comes to reality, being there 24/7 and putting all my life and my effort, everything was too scary. I was there eight times. Every time it was about 10 days. It’s a long time but all of those times I tried to make a life there.
I realized that I’m much more comfortable here, and I think this is where my life should be, in Copenhagen. My daughter lives in New York, but I couldn’t. My network and everything is here in Copenhagen. I’m a well-known face here and I know a lot of people so that makes me comfortable in some ways. Familiarity. I like this global feeling and I like to travel definitely, but I prefer it here.
New York scares you? What were you drawn to?
I was drawn to the Big Apple and all this myth about the Big Apple like if you can make it there you can make it everywhere. I was very drawn to the big city, but actually, I was scared as well. I was scared of losing everything in New York in two seconds. I would be standing there totally naked and would have to go back.
You have the ability to be incognito in New York, you can’t do some things that you might want to do here. Does it keep you "honest" having people around you who know you?
I’m a two-faced man because I do incognito stuff. I like to get lost but then I like to be found again. And when I put my feet on the ground here in Copenhagen after I travel, I’m found so that’s nice. But I do like to get lost.
As you observe people while traveling in New York, do you see a difference in how Danes travel versus New Yorkers?
It’s so normal for New Yorkers that there are people from Iraq and Iran, from Canada and from Norway, Sweden, and Bolivia. It’s kind of a melting pot.
But the struggle is real for everyone you said? Is it a quieter struggle?
Maybe it is, but we pay a lot of tax and when you pay tax it means you are taking care of everybody so we don't lose anybody on the street. Of course, we have some homeless people, but we are very much anxious about taking care of people.
I pay maybe 68 percent of my income to taxes. That’s a lot of money.
Do you think it’s worth it?
No (laughs). Well, maybe it was. But at the same time, I get sick and tired of it as well.
I feel all this show of responsibility, but for example, when I see documentary stuff from different countries and even the States, how you behave to each other, I’m so happy about our system here but it costs a lot of money, and it makes a lot of frustration as well.
How have you seen Copenhagen change?
It has changed a lot. It has become more international in some ways. I guess it is kind of because of the threat of terror in Europe, but there are much more tourists in Copenhagen because it’s safer. People prefer to come here than go to Paris. The restaurants and shops have become much more—if you close your eyes you can’t figure out if you are in London or Paris. It is an international feeling when you walk down the street, at least for me.
Would you say you are an outsider here?
Yeah. I very much am and that’s what I was looking for in New York. Every time I visit in New York, I see people say, “Hey, hello,” and give me a lot of comments to my expression and style. In Copenhagen, there are so many people in the same jeans, same sneakers, same caps, and same t-shirts. It’s so fucking boring and I can’t believe it. Adult men are very much in the same uniform. I only have two colors in my wardrobe it’s black and beige. I don’t have anything else. It’s almost like a uniform.
Why do you enjoy traveling?
I like to travel and get lost. Actually, it’s a luxurious feeling to get a little lost sometimes, especially when you live in this little village. Copenhagen is not a city it’s a small village. It’s so small you can’t fuck somebody without everybody knowing. You have to be a little careful in some sort of ways because it’s a very small city.
Are you careful?
No, I don’t give a shit
How do you typically travel and do you travel often?
I quite often go to Paris with my girlfriend because we like to visit some special clubs that we don’t have in Copenhagen because it’s too small. Paris has a sexy scene-you have something similar in Copenhagen but it’s not so sophisticated as in Paris. We like to go there, and then of course, on all the holidays we go abroad.
What do you always pack?
Boots. I love boots.
Do you bring anything back when you visit Paris or anything else?
Food, normally food. It’s illegal but I do it. From Paris, I bring lots of small things like glasses, pesto, oil, and spices. This summer I brought back a very soft bag and then I bought a whole leg of Iberico ham. It’s about 11 kilos. It was a heavy motherfucker. We were eating this Iberico ham for the whole summer.
Can you tell me about your artwork?
This started up about six years ago because I was doing a lot of stuff on canvas, painting and so on. I realized I had an animal in my house in Italy, which got covered in mold. It was disgusting and I took it out in the sun and after some hours, the sun dried it out. It had a lot of spots on the skin and I said maybe I should paint it because with all the spots it looked like a cheetah. It looked like a predator, not like a gazelle. So then I started painting it.
Now, I take old animals that have been in a loft or a basement because nobody wants them anymore and I paint them.
How long does it take you to do each piece?
Maybe 25-30 hours to do each piece.
Are you finding people outside of Denmark are interested in your work?
Yes. I’ve sold two animals to Americans but customs is insane! This is such an ordinary, simple, everyday animal in Africa, but American people want special certificates that say it has been killed in a decent way. I don’t have any papers because I buy them second hand. So I have to actually smuggle. One animal was bought by a guy that has his own plane so he took it into America in his own plane. But I’ve sold a lot of animals in Sweden, Norway, and Holland.
Is the arts community supported in Copenhagen?
There is a big willingness from the government of Copenhagen to develop this art scene. If you go to Vesterbro you will see where we have these building sites and they are all plastered in art. And new stuff is coming up all the time. You should go to the Meatpacking District. It’s very nice and there is a lot of art galleries and very established artists but also for very underground artists as well. I think the art scene in Copenhagen is very lively.
How did you start?
I was working every day since 1984 as an art director at an ad agency and in some sort of way after work you need to do something that is a little more inspirational. So I have been painting all my life. This is what I do now. I have a nightclub in Copenhagen as well. It’s a kind of restaurant, which becomes a nightclub later in the evening and it’s very lively. It’s very sophisticated in some sort of ways, very erotic. Very leather and mirrors and velvet stuff and very dark.
Are there any political or social messages to your art? Where does the motivation come from?
This project with animals has a political statement as well.
And I think in some sort of way we should be better to give one another an extra chance. It is in your love life, your marriage, it is in your work time, and so on. Sometimes I think people are so quick judging everybody and putting you in this box, and this box, and this box. We need to do things. We need to have failures and we need to be taken care of after failure so we can get up again.
In many ways, there’s a darkness to your art. Where does this darkness come from?
You know when you go into a maze? For me, my life is a maze. I go in and have to figure out how to get out. Sometimes I succeed coming out of the maze but then suddenly, I relax a second and then I am in the maze again. My whole life is about getting out of the maze. When I’m spending time getting out of the maze of my life, that’s my life actually. That’s when I’m living.
Where do you go for inspiration?
People are an inspiration. I was at a big wedding. There were a lot of people there and it was a garden party so it was outdoors the whole night, lots of lights. There was a lot of inspiration about our human behavior and so on.
Photography by Robiee Ziegler, unless otherwise noted. Interviews edited for flow and clarity.