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Carl Nesjar: The Photographer

Carl Nesjar

May 9 – June 1, 2024

Press Release

Galleri Brandstrup is proud to present “Carl Nesjar: The Photographer” a presentation of the late artist Carl Nesjar’s vintage photos. The exhibition opens on Wednesday 15 May, 2024 at 6 PM. A selection of many photographs taken by Nesjar throughout his long life, unveiling an interest in nature, ice and water, and rocky shores. The presentation will also portray portraits and private photos from his nearly 20-year collaboration with Pablo Picasso.

Some of the photographs portrayed were printed on aluminium and developed after Nesjar’s death; he was fascinated by the possibilities that large digital printers opened and had a sincere desire to work with that medium, which made these photos a natural extension of his own work.

Carl Nesjar was one of Norway’s most internationally active artists of his generation, renowned for his extensive work across various mediums, including paintings, sculptures, neon installations, photographs, and prints. Although he was greatly celebrated also within Norway, he was perhaps best known globally for his collaborative concrete artworks with Pablo Picasso. This international acclaim underscores his unique position as a Norwegian artist with a substantial impact beyond his native country.

From the late 1950s until Picasso's passing in 1973, they created about 30 monumental works together. Among these were prominent murals at Oslo's Høyblokka—the Norwegian government buildings—which suffered considerable damage from a bomb in July 2011.

While Picasso never visited Oslo, he supplied sketches that Nesjar transformed into grand concrete pieces through his unique sand-blasting technique known as Betograve. This commission, ostensibly led by architect Erling Viksjö, encompassed both interior and exterior elements rendered in cubist and naive styles, depicting various figures and scenes.

The Nasher Sculpture Center has lauded Nesjar's Betograve technique for its precision in revealing the underlying gravel in the set concrete—a method perfectly suited to Picasso's spontaneous sketches. Art historian Douglas Cooper praised the enduring vitality in Nesjar’s interpretations of Picasso's works.

Born Carl Carlsen on July 6, 1920, in Larvik, located at the southern tip of the outer Oslofjord, he chose the surname Nesjar in homage to a nearby coastal area noted for its historic maritime significance. Despite his Norwegian roots, Nesjar's upbringing took place in Brooklyn and New York City, where his formal education spanned the Pratt Institute and Columbia University. He furthered his studies at the Norwegian National School of Arts and Crafts and the National Academy of Fine Arts, both in Oslo, and pursued printmaking in Paris.

Nesjar first encountered Picasso in France during the 1950s and caught the artist's attention with his Betograv tests. Their initial collaboration was the sculpture Tête de femme (1958), reimagining a Picasso work originally in metal. Their partnership extended to other projects, including the "Festivals Frieze" on the College of Architects of Catalonia in Barcelona and statues of Picasso's muse, Lydia Sylvette David, displayed in New York and Rotterdam.

Nesjar’s artistic inspiration often drew from natural elements like rock, water, ice, fire, and snow. His ice/water fountains are found in many places both domestically and internationally. He once mused about the persistent challenge of water, wishing to create a fountain that would continually ascend without falling back.

Throughout his career, Nesjar evolved from expressive naturalism to full abstraction in his painting style, also delving into photography and experimental films. The artworks previously threatened by the demolition of a government block in Oslo have been relocated.

Nesjar spent his later years in an artists' residence at Bøler in Oslo, continuing his artistic endeavours until his life’s end. Initially, in the 1950s, he was married to the notable Norwegian artist Inger Sitter.