The fact that the boundaries between inside and outside are always shifting in painting makes it challenging to make clear distinctions about its placement. With the exponential growth of images on the Internet, pictures and places appear more uniform and are consumed in seconds as we scroll over them with our finger, of which this exposition is no exception. In this at once multiple and singular version of the world, significant amounts of information is being lost. However, as we spend more time online, we gradually accept this deficiency as our new reality. The current discussion around the idea of painting in an expanded field can be seen as a reaction to this situation.
The process of relating painterly experience to other types of media either by working outside the canvas or bringing it into the traditional realm of painterly space itself offered ways to create a conceptual distance from painting's deep connection to history, particular types of narratives and topics, and established rules. At the same time, the current idea that everything can be brought back to a painterly discourse makes the field seem limitless. Painting outdoors was a similar attempt to investigate and test the boundaries of contemporary painting practice. Photography felt like a hindrance to a direct encounter with world and I wanted to move away from having a predefined image to work from. Painting outdoors and experimenting with the studio situation allowed me to fix certain parameters in the painting process, which made me more aware of my own subjective positioning. The new paintings incorporated a dialogue with the place I was in, but also my previous experience from painting in other places.
This could also happen even if I was not working on site. The two paintings on the right were made after a visit to London in 2010. I was attracted to the interplay between the indoor and outdoor relationship of the architecture in the place I was staying. The memory of rain hitting the frosted glass window in the bedroom at night became a point of departure for Two Moons. The running of paint that occurs in the background has for instance a structural and a visual correspondence to how paint started to run when I was painting at Kolsås. In The garden at St. John the way that the green and red plants are painted can be connected to the gestural mark-making occurring in the paintings made at night at Jeløya.
Outdoor painting as method of investigation
Romantic painters turned to nature as a reaction to the on-going industrialization in the nineteenth century. Today outdoor painting is often regarded as a romantic cliché and passed off as the artist’s own nostalgic longing for an idyllic landscape to paint. It is thus a vulnerable and risky enterprise to enter this overdetermined space of painting and use it for self-critique without running the risk of being judged as kitsch. By painting outside I wanted to actively engage with the landscape and become a conscious observer of and participant in the environmental transformations that are actually going on. Visiting places where artists has worked or lived before offered a means to rediscover places and to reenact to the topography of the landscape through a contemporary position. Observing and capturing everyday events, I tried to respond to my immediate environment and to mark its presence. This produced a heightened awareness of the here and now. Brushstrokes became a way to show how something stands in relation to other things at a certain moment in time. How the paint moved across a surface and its layering gave visible information about the conditions in which a painting was made. This gave the paintings a new type of material presence, which again influenced work done indoors.
Going between painting inside and outside at Ringsveen revealed the shifting character of place. The two contexts produced very different types of paintings, each informed by the other. In general, the paintings made outside were often more concrete and open, while the paintings made inside from recent memory were more removed and insular. The impetus for starting the painting process was more direct outside, resulting in marks of a more gestural nature. This intrigued me because it did not occur in the same way when working after photography. It also revealed different temporalities in the painting process. To retain a feeling of presence, the paintings made outside had to be done in one session, visible in the wet on wet application of the paint. This was a collaborative process between the place, the painting and myself. The weather was often a determining factor for how the paint would react with the support and had a direct influence on the type of marks that were made. The technique used had to be adapted to the conditions I was in. Inside, on the other hand, the process was more controlled. I often worked from memory of an event outside my field of vision, the working conditions were more stable and I could work with a painting over a longer period of time. Experimentation with new techniques produced chance events that I could react to in the painting process. This set the stage for a more analytical form of painting visible in brush marks that were more layered.
At Ringsveen, I had problems painting in cold weather because the paint itself would freeze. When painting watercolors in the Grand Canyon, the water dried up more or less instantaneously on the paper hindering movement of the brush. In 2012, I had a related experience when I returned to Fogo to paint waves. This time, I worked in Squish Studio, also by Todd Saunders. Due to the confines of the highly sculptural studio, I decided to use the outside architecture as a support for new paintings. On windy days standing on the scaffolding outside the building produced the feeling of being aboard a boat on a stormy sea. I had to use a roller instead of a brush to prevent paint from fly into my eyes. To counteract the elements, my movements had to be slow and controlled which resulted in the paintings with a predominant graphic waveform.
When insides become outsides
To better understand the migratory relationships between insides and outsides and the relation between places in my painting, I experimented with different studio models. The real test came with Winterstudio, which offered a new conceptual framework for understanding of how the paintings mirrored their contextual surroundings. That the architecture reframed the outside had already been evident at Ringsveen, but the concrete mechanisms of movement within the studio, the shifting light conditions, the question of distance to the subject and the relation between working from observation versus memory became more concrete and poignant when working in Winterstudio. Keeping the architectural set-up constant, allowed literal space for the deconstruction of the studio situation itself. Architecture, like photography, produced a type of predefined image to work from. However, it did not eliminate the relation between the subject and the outside in the same way. Winterstudio became a place where different modes of painting could interact.
Painting under other circumstances than the controlled studio situation produced another type of energy in the painting process. It was often challenging to convert some of this stored up energy when painting inside. Doing large-scale work, exaggerating certain pictorial elements or using bold colors have been ways to reenact nature’s theatrical dimension. In 2015 I completed the public commission Big Green Wave for the new Technology Building at the University of Tromsø. The painting is over 20 meters long and made to fit the exterior wall of the entrance to a ship navigation simulator on the first floor. It is impossible to see the painting all at once; the painting becomes part of the environment. Following the curvature of the building, the wave, which is painted quite flat, has an almost three-dimensional quality to it as you walk around it.
Big Green Wave, 22,5 × 2,8 m, acrylic paint on cotton canvas, New Technology Building, University of Tromsø, Norway, 2015
Painting as a place to view other places
Traditionally, paintings are mobile objects that get mounted in fixed places. Looking at a painting can evoke the experience of being in a different physical place. Inversely, a geographical place can remind us of places we have seen depicted in paintings. As viewers looking at a painting, we temporarily occupy the place of the painter. The space of imagination the viewer is offered in a painting is in direct contact with the place the painter occupied at the time of its making. In my work I have tried to show how the inside outside dynamics of geographical places brings together places outside and within ourselves through painting.
While visiting Barbizon, I was told that at one point there had been several hundred painters workingen plein-air in the forest. I tried to imagine this community of painters and how it would look like today. The scene feels absurd, but the consequences could be significant. The ultimate question is whether painting can have real social implications? I believe it does. Looking at painting is an experience of looking at someone else’s experience and making it our own.
In 2015 Chocolate Box Studio became a permanent part of a public commissionat the office of the County Governor of Oppland in Lillehammer. Here I moved the outdoor studio indoors in form of a full size tree on which the chocolate box with a painting inside was attached. The studio was shown together with other paintings of the Mesna River and a woodcut of a journal entry from my stay at Ringsveen.
In 2012 Winterstudio was moved to the West Coast of Norway. It is now situated on top of the foundations of the old homestead Hansplassen on the farm Lingebakken. In collaboration with the artist and fruit farmer Elida Brenna Linge, ten artists were invited to work in the studio for a two-week period each. Work pertaining to the residency was shown in the exhibition Winterstudio – Hansplassen at Kunstmuseet Kube in Ålesund 8 May – 20 September, 2015. For more information see: www.winterstudio-hansplassen.com.