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Meditasjoner over Dantes Inferno

Håkon Bleken

November 17 – December 17, 2022

Press Release

It is with great honour that Galleri Brandstrup presents our forthcoming solo exhibition by Håkon Bleken, titled "Meditasjoner over Dantes Inferno" on November 17 at 6pm. The exhibition is made up of 32 pastels. All the works presented have been produced the past year, where the artist has worked and reworked his emotions around Dante Alighieri's 14th-century narrative poem Inferno. Bleken stated that he considers this project his most significant project to date.

It is not easy to classify Bleken’s artistic oeuvre, as he works with a range of media: painting, coal drawing, collage, stained glass, different graphic methods, and book illustrations. Yet, he is best known for his paintings and works with coal, which vary between carefully detailed composed pieces and intelligent simplicity in abstractionism. This exhibition however uniquely present pastels, an art medium in the form of a stick, consisting of powdered pigment and a binder. Pastel is a medium that straddles the line between painting and drawing. The pigments used in pastels are like those used to produce other media, such as oil painting; the binder is of a neutral hue and low saturation.  The colour effect of pastels however is closer to the natural dry pigments than that of any other process. Bleken masters the medium intricately, resulting in works that glow with intensely luminous colour and rich velvety texture, the lines are precise and hover over fluid and lush backgrounds.

The meditation started with Bleken drawing the pastels while dwelling on the poem at his studio in Trondheim, Norway. Bleken associates Dante’s Inferno with feelings of melancholy, which he describes as longing:, for something in the past, memories, or something lost, as well as for something in the future that seems unobtainable. It is this mood that shines through his artworks in “Meditasjoner over Dantes Inferno”; melancholy along with beauty and cruelty. As indicated in the exhibition title, this project is not a literary interpretation of Inferno, but an expression of the moods the book delivers.

The masterpiece describes Dante's journey as a pilgrim through inferno and gathers the contraries within one figure. Early in the poem Beatrice, Dante's deceased lover, sends him a companion, Vergil, a Roman Poet. Vergil gives him the courage to set out on the journey through Hell, while Beatrice is waiting for him in Paradiso. Bleken uses art history in the same way that Dante uses Vergil, as companions through his journey as an artist. He draws inspiration from Francis Bacon and Arne Ekeland, makes use of the tribalism of the pre-Renaissance painters and implements practises from Cubism's Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. 

Bleken was educated at the Norwegian Academy of Fine Arts in the years 1949-53. At the academy he studied under Professor Jean Heiberg. His graphic career began in 1947 with linoleum and wooden boards, and he eventually moved on to etching. From 1962-72, Håkon Bleken was employed as an associate professor at NTH where he taught the architecture students in drawing and cofounded the artist collective titled Gruppe 5. His big breakthrough came in 1971 with a series of charcoal drawings "Fragments of a dictatorship". The methods he used in charcoal drawing were seen as innovative and exciting. Bleken is one of the most prominent Norwegian artists over the last forty years. He has had an immense influence on the Norwegian contemporary art scene and is considered a national master.