Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, currently facing time in prison for tax fraud, is certainly a character, taking on more of a dramatic persona than most people do in their day-to-day lives. He's also a bit of a polarizing figure. I know artists who think he is a kind of prophet, talking about art in a way contemporary artists are inspired and mobilized by. Others find themselves unmoved by his work and put off by the hype.
I don't care to promote or vilify Nerdrum. But I will say is that his work and his writings make me think. First off, Nerdrum believes that art–he quibbles with the word, preferring to describe his work as kitsch–is eternal, not of a particular time and place.
|Early Morning by Odd Nerdrum, oil on canvas.|
For me, this brings up all sorts of questions about the things that I would categorize as eternal and worthy of making art–human connection, the male and female figure, spirituality in the broadest sense–but I also push against this dictate. Why can't the specifics of a life merit art? What about the small moments where nothing is "happening" but there's significance to be found all the same? What about pleasure? What about fun? I'd say if something has a place in life, it certainly has a place in art, right?
But I do find myself intrigued by Nerdrum's work because the figures and the compositions seem to be practically screaming their narrative, and yet those narratives aren't really clear or concise. That means the viewer is free to think through the work, puzzle it out, come up with multiple and possibly competing narratives. I like that freedom and not every painting gives me that opportunity, so it is certainly one I relish.
|Drifting by Odd Nerdrum, oil on canvas.||The Kiss by Odd Nerdrum, oil on canvas.|
As a painter, Nerdrum is well known to have taken up with the Old Masters, particularly Rembrandt. Using a muted, earth-toned palette, he creates works using the same oil painting methods that have produced well-painted works for centuries–layering, glazing, scumbling, and balancing color value. By making works that are skillfully painted, Nerdrum is essentially critiquing the idea that painting well or with skill is painting conventionally. Because that is not always the case, and it certainly isn't with his work.
P.S. What do you think about Odd Nerdrum's philosophy and works? Leave a comment and let me know. All best!