A Place for Painting


by Andreas Siqueland

Paintings have an ambivalent relationship to place. Expressions like “being in place”, “depicting a place”, “belonging to a place”, etc. are common. At the same time, paintings are movable objects, which gives them a "placeless" quality. This is further complicated by the way paintings relate to other paintings. How “place” appears in one painting transforms our vision of the next. A shifting chronology develops, as if all these places are all part of the same place, the same story, told and retold, many times over.

For the last 150 years or so, painting has navigated a precarious path alongside photography, often defining itself in opposition to it. I work traditionally, using oil, acrylic, gouache, ink and watercolor on canvas, board and paper. After spending several years painting from photographs and being fascinated with how I could translate these pictures into another type of material reality, a type of dependency had developed, as if I was not able to paint without having a pre-defined image to work from. I began to feel a lack of presence and a loss of agency in relation to my own work. Instead of opening up my paintings to new worlds, painting after photography felt like a closure.

This turning point in my work probably did not only have to do with the medium of photography itself, but a general condition that I attributed to photography as a medium that plays a vital role in our present systems of representation and the position of art within this context. In my work I was especially interested in observing nature and investigating the dialogue between landscape and painting. The growing removal I had experienced in working from photographs seemed to be symptomatic of the way I was relating to nature. I started to wonder if it would be possible to make paintings without photographs. Could I rediscover a place for painting outside a photographic frame of reference? To what degree were my paintings a product of their surroundings? How would they change if I moved and started working in a new location?

To further pursue these types of rhetorical questions I applied for a fellowship within the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme at the Academy of Fine Art in Oslo.[1] As a means to perform a self-critical analysis of my own process, I decided to leave the studio and to paint outdoors in search of a place for painting. I hoped that by studying geographical places and the topography of landscapes through painting, I could rediscover a more intimate connection to painting’s inherent topos and to my surroundings.

[1] Hereafter referred to as the ‘Academy’.


Painting after photography

Photographs are intriguing because they offer a set frame to work from. Since photographs are impressions of time and space – these parameters makes one curious about the how, what and where of the image. In my experience of looking through a viewfinder, what is happening outside in the margins significantly, defines and determines the cropped image. Painting after photography offered a way to start to reflect, observe and fantasize about the ends of the image. A conversation in paint became a way to delve into another type of life form besides the mechanical. In retrospect, I wonder if the impulse to paint actually came from photography; as if it was a catalyst for these adventures. In high school I could spend countless hours in the darkroom developing photographs. I was fascinated by how the exposed image gradually appears out of nothing. Similar things would happen on the canvas, but the cause and effect was not as magical, not as mysterious. To make a painting fast and precise became a feat because it allowed me to reenact what I had experienced with photography.

With the digital turn in photography, which more or less coincided with my own art education in the beginning of the new millennia, I found that the type of séance-like escapism that traditional photography had offered, was no longer possible. The digital image presented many new possibilities of transformation. This made it more evident that photographs were constructions just like paintings, that could be assembled and disassembled at will. The act of applying paint to canvas naturally embodied the act and concept of construction. It was then a paradox, that artists like myself, working with constructed scenery like landscapes, should still feel that photography was the evil enemy of painting that set aside a direct encounter with place. By painting from photography I was competing with a perfect flawless image, which was faster and much more effective than myself. In my stubborn pursuit of new pictures to paint, I realized that painting was all but this. The bodily experience of making a painting was something else. It had a quality of translating an experience into something material, something real – a here and now, which I could not perceive or experience in the same way anywhere else. I had to hold on to this.



Photo: Vegard Kleven

A Place is a Place, front page of notebook, ink on paper, 13 x 21 cm, 2009

A return to outdoor painting

The experience of displacement I had felt in my own work raised a series of questions regarding the creation of place in paintings and their connection to their surroundings and the landscape. To investigate this further I decided to return to plein air painting. This seemed the most honest and direct way to consider how geographical location relates to painting. It offered a means to cancel out digital noise and open up my painting process to the influences of nature. At the same time it enabled me to analyze the work taking place indoors from a different perspective.

The choice to return to outdoor painting was not haphazard. I had started painting outdoors during my first year of art school. Since that time, I was deeply impacted by conceptual artists of the 1970s. Since that time, I was deeply impacted by 1970s Conceptual art and Land art, which is often only known through photographic documentation. In photographs of earth sculptures, like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) for instance, the sculpture is a participant observer in the landscape. By painting outdoors it was as if I could myself embody this role; letting the elements transform my painterly practice. Using Land art as a model, I wished to free myself from certain traditional painter-subject conventions and open up a space for more truthful observations. I hoped this implicit critique performed through nature could be mirrored by another type of presence in the paintings themselves.  











It has often struck me that artists who change their whereabouts, often change their way of working and style along with it. This was also visible in my own practice. Upon completion of art school in 2004, together with my friend and colleague Anders Kjellesvik, I had started the travel-based collaboration aiPotu[2] making work in the public space. The first thing we did was to buy a mobile home and travel through Europe in the form of a number 8. On our journey we set ourselves the mandate not to repeat our interventions, which soon became a mantra for common practice.

Individually we had both studied painting and printmaking. Painting offered another space of reflection apart from this more openly socially engaged practice. By going on a journey and discovering geographical locations in person, my aim was to circumvent a textual description of the world, and see the world through painting. Ideally I wanted to be faced with the possibility of arriving in a new place without a preconceived idea about what to paint or the style or manner in which to paint. In turn, this should make the particular circumstances of the place I visited visible in the way the painting was made. I hoped I could achieve it by keeping an open itinerary, defined and directed by encounters, findings and chance occurrences underway. However, performing this unplanned journey turned out to be much more subjective and personal than first envisaged. Learning-by-doing also meant I would have to consider the actions of my predecessors. While retracing the footsteps of plein air painters, I revisited the landscapes of my youth.

What follows is a visual travel account of my journey with a particular focus on how working in one place transformed my vision of the next. A selection of ten places out of approximately twenty-five have been chosen and are presented in rough chronological order. This offers a sense of the scope of my investigation and the transformations that occurred underway.


Each page is organized horizontally. Navigate through by clicking the arrow at bottom right hand corner of each page.


[2] For more information see www.aipotu.org.