On the Abstraction of the Mole and the Names of Trees
Andreas Eriksson’s Work as Inverted Perspective
Nothing is what it seems. What passes, returns. And is still not the same. What arrives in the form of elemental wisdom or truism becomes the basis for a fascinating and unique pictorial world in the work of Andreas Eriksson. Just at the point when one thinks one has finally grasped Andreas Eriksson’s works, disappointment sets in. Seemingly clear categories become obliterated, the lines of media blur. Between the molehills that have been cast in bronze and the paintings that oscillate between collage and painting, Eriksson’s definition of work becomes undefined in a most productive way: A body of work that has for years been oscillating between painting and sculpture, between part and whole, between abstraction and figuration, high and low, tradition and presence. Most importantly however, every individual body of work, each ever so surprising and abruptly formal or medial turn is explicable only within the concert of the oeuvre.If one dwells for too long on a single aspect of his complex oeuvre, it begins to take on series of new turns, and in the long run insistently disturbs the notion – so dear and familiar to us – that a group of works must be directly coherent. However, it is precisely this moment of confusion and disappointment that generates the quality and appeal of the work to an equal extent. While the viewer walks through the exhibition space or leafs through the catalogue, somewhere between photography and painting, between sculpture and installation, a dazzling, centrifugal and expansive work begins to unfold. A fascinatingly heterogeneous and unorthodox approach to the different genres, techniques and styles of recent art history, which have determined Eriksson’s work for almost a decade.
Yet what at first glance appears eclectic soon makes way for an unusually dense structure of works, forming a concise network. By means of a simple change of perspective, the divergent coexistence is transformed into a harmonious and balanced universe. The comets, planets and moons in this art-cosmos orbit around their aesthetic core paths that sometimes cross and at other times run parallel: at the centre is Andreas Eriksson, the artist himself and the idea of what a work can be, which he expands by associative means.
As in early medieval evangelist depictions, the entire cosmos only combines in a way that is coherent and meaningful when the viewers do not regard the depicted world from the outside but themselves take on the role of the protagonist. In the “inverted” perspectives of the early book illuminations created between the Late Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages, the entire world arches up around that which is depicted in its centre. With a maximum degree of abstraction, the outer shell of the vaulted world, the heavenly architecture and even the throne of the scribe envelope the corpus, integrating it firmly into its tectonic structure. What is shown is not the extended reality of the viewer but the opposite: a world that always remains unfamiliar, even if at first glance it seems to resemble our own!
Eriksson’s eclectically diverse works confront and vex us with precisely this ambivalence between closeness and distance, between the familiar and unfamiliar. However, the work that is highly divergent on a formal level, combines to form a tightly woven net as long as the viewers do not seek a coherent common thread linking the individual works but rather one linking the works and the artist. A personal, intimate perception of the world connects these paintings, photographs and sculptures, which become meaningful when perceived in close relation to the artist himself, his family and his studio.
With this in mind, the molehills have an interesting parallel in the series of black bronze birds, entitled Content is a Glimpse (from 2005, ongoing) and their history that is both morbid and personal. What we see are classic bronze casts, however of entirely non-classical objects. The birds were deceived by the reflections in the large windows of Eriksson’s studio and died by attempting to fly into these reflections. The result of this collision between civilisation and nature develops a metaphorical-theoretical dimension when the viewers take a different perspective for a moment: Eriksson dedicates an empathetic epitaph to these creatures who have perished on the threshold between reality and art, studio and landscape, and at the same time he also highlights the artistic process, the killing of something natural as a necessary prerequisite for his work of art. Seen from a different angle, the creative artistic act requires the death of the bird, in fact even more so because during the manufacturing process the very last material traces of the birds have been obliterated. The dead bodies are cast and then burned completely by the extremely hot bronze poured into the cast. Finally, the suspended carcass, complete with the entry pipe and the pipes already filled, is set upright once again. As a result of this “inversion” the traces of the fabrication are transformed into organic elements and the sculpture into an intriguing figure that oscillates between art and nature.
For the molehills Eriksson does not use the lost-wax method, in which reality is destroyed for the benefit of art, but the theoretic discourse remains the same. Also in these provocatively inconspicuous heaps, made of the most precious artistic material, the question about the aesthetic status of objects shines through: Are they art or reality, abstract or object, a trace of the world or their own autonomous setting? The essence of these amorphous forms changes profoundly, depending on whether they are embedded in the context of the biography of the artist or not. They lead independent and equal existences within the realm of Eriksson’s life and beyond. These can be seen as complementary as well as, ultimately excluding each other, depending on one’s reading.Similarly, Eriksson’s way of dealing with painting is characterised by an elemental ambivalence, paired with a stupendous handling of the medium, making it impossible to assign a specific pictorial aesthetic to him – which, as we know, is regarded as a fatal sin in the context of painting, even if Daniel, as well as Gerhard Richter, Albert Oehlen and others have used exactly this transgression in their work.
The gestural, abstract language of the recent body of work entitled Cutouts contrasts in a vexing way with his early series of Shadow Paintings, which are monochrome black only at first sight. Both very different modes of abstraction, they have a concrete, worldly undercurrent.
At first sight, his Shadow Paintings are homogenously black and are reminiscent of one of the numerous new inventions of Colour Field Painting – in the style Ad Reinhardt. However, the interior houses an entire world, or more precisely, the artist’s studio by night. It is again this fascinating membrane separating the inside from the outside, the studio from reality, the artist from the world, that already characterised the Content is a Glimpse sculptures. Eriksson photographs the dark shadows cast on the studio wall by the headlights of the passing cars, transposing them into acrylic on canvas.
The darker wall sections have been painted using a special background paint which shows through the black acrylic-painted surface as an almost imperceptible structure.On the threshold to something that is only just perceivable, the viewers become aware of the fallibility of their perception – and at the same time its immeasurable creative potential: is what the viewers see or believe they see still real, or already cerebral reconstruction, imagined reality? With this simple yet at the same time incredibly efficient investigation of the image and its possibilities, Eriksson takes the viewer back to the very source of painting, to the moment in which new image worlds arise from the imagination and shadowy projections – despite the fact that they still refer very much to the reality outside – are still unscrupulous introspections.
In a similarly aporetic construction as in his sculptures, the dualisms of inside and outside, art and the real world, also play a role in his photographs and paintings. Nature, or more specifically, the immediate surroundings of his studio, time and time again become critical measurements for Eriksson’s questioning of abstract-gestural painting for its sustainability. The paintings are always entirely abstract and at the same time have a deeply organic character, a reality parallel to nature. The Cutouts are a form of recycling of earlier, “failed” works which have been cut apart and were finalised in a second step. A strangely contradictory and confusing marking that describes as few others the complexity of the definition of a work through Eriksson. And this, although especially this abstract-organic gesture, can be linked perfectly well within the network of his oeuvre. It connects different aspects of his work without losing its solitary, abstract autonomy. The fact that the Cutouts – besides their double-nature of art and nature – formulate an aesthetic of successful failure makes these painted recycling-collages so very revealing for the understanding of Eriksson’s work. In the end, every single work is a fascinating double-bind between the author and his material as one reinvents itself from the other again and again. This connection is rarely as tangible as in the photographs Eriksson takes on his walks through the woods near his studio. The trees, foundlings, plantations, tree stumps, branches or snowy fields which he photographs almost randomly on his daily strolls can only remain interchangeable snapshots if they are regarded separately from their titles and thus from their creator.
Similar to the molehills which only then become apparent in their complexity if seen as casts of molehills that surround his studio, so are a part of his personal realm.
The fact that the photo of the heavy foundling in the snow is entitled “problem” or the group of four fir trees has been named “family” is more than just confusing or amusing but above all is revealing for Eriksson’s relationship to his environment. The tree trunks, nestled up close to one another, become lovers and the artist recognises himself and a partner in two spruce trees hidden in a deciduous forest. It is not the fact that the world of objects is loaded with references – that are sometimes misleading, sometimes full of associations – which is remarkable here, but the moment of artistic adaption itself. The surrounding world becomes a portrait of the artist himself, the reflection of his personal view of the world, and seemingly inconspicuous photographs suddenly become mysteriously animated scenes located somewhere between nature and biography.Unfamiliar materials such as stones, trees or snow become as much a familiar counterpart as they become part of Andreas Eriksson. Finally, everything that he integrates into the context of his works is combined to form a complex overall work of art, a self-portrait that continually expands in all directions. The boundaries of this cosmos of images are just as fluid as those between the author and his world. Just as the medieval evangelist is confidently placed in the centre of Creation as the writer of the “logos”, the word at the very beginning, Andreas Eriksson’s paintings, bronzes and photographs are also nothing less than the invention of the world in his own mind.