I’m freelancing at the moment and I’ve got to say: I’ve got a newfound respect for remote workers. Although I went to a lot of trouble to make myself a clean, calm and inspiring office at home, I keep finding myself getting distracted. Or spending entire days in my pyjamas. Or spooning Nutella into my mouth for lunch. Usually a combination of the three. But my most frequent form of procrastination is searching “From: London. To: Anywhere” on Skyscanner. Since returning to this fine city on January 1st (and actually revitalising my love for it), I’ve spent many a gratuitous hour wondering where to go next. When I filter my frequent search by price, I always see Oslo beckon with its tempting £12 flights. I’ve been Google Images-ing the hell out of that beautiful place. Imagine my joy, then, when I found out that one of my favourite arty nooks, Dulwich Picture Gallery, has just opened a whole exhibition about the country, appropriately called Painting Norway.
The show focuses on the artistic output of Norwegian painter, Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928), one of Norway’s most celebrated artists from the twentieth century. In his oil paintings and woodcuts, he retells the lush, wild landscapes and traditional way of life of his (very remote) home in western Norway, powerfully capturing the myths and folklore of the country.
Painting Norway opens with the rugged, wild mountains and lake that dominated Astrup’s home village of Ålhus. Also repeatedly shown is the parsonage that Astrup lived in as a child. In a curatorial feat, if you stand in the middle of the first room and turn around slowly, it’s as if you’re standing in that very geography. It’s a nice way to open a show of a quaint and largely unfamiliar artist; to be put in his shoes, so to speak.
The aforementioned parsonage crops up again and plays a strong role in the narrative of the exhibition; even when it’s not visible. On one hand, it was deemed insanitary (even by 1880s’ standards) and consequently, Astrup became asthmatic. His respiratory problems led him to spend time outdoors after dark, when the air was clearer; which is why so many of the paintings show Norway’s unique half-light (as there are so few hours of true darkness over the summer). On the other hand, Astrup had a thoroughly enjoyable childhood here. Perhaps this fondness of memory led him to continue to create childlike art with a mimesis of folklore in his woodcuts.
I felt like the exhibition could have explored Norse folklore a little more informatively; but then again, Astrup’s aesthetics were all I needed to notice something a little anthropomorphised about the trees as I walked home from Dulwich to Camberwell.
See what I mean?
Although I wasn’t consistently impressed by Astrup’s technical abilities in Painting Norway, I did appreciate his approach to colour. Taking great pride in his natural surroundings, he celebrated the clarity of the air by painting distant objects with as much colour as he saw (often, an artist will use colour to aid perspective). Because of this unfailing vibrance, his palette of jewel-like greens seems infinite.
If Astrup’s paintings, currently on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery, are anything to go by, summer is the time to visit Norway. That can only be a good thing; this gives me a solid few months to save up for that £12 flight*.
*I hope I can a-fjord it, har har har