The exhibition consists of all new works in egg oil tempera and mixed media drawings created in Oslo and in Cape Town. The ancient medium of egg oil tempera has become one of Elling’s trademarks over the last decades. He creates the visual effect of a burst of memory, where the almost experienced or almost seen is presented in a dreamlike and poetic expression. One can see how the different works in “Blindkontur” are results of Ellings change of surroundings from Oslo, to his studio in South-Africa, with a range of earthy colours such as dark greens, terracottas and ochres.
The Artist Reflects
I was halfway through my work towards a new exhibition. It was supposed to be about subjects that have always held my interests; how my inner twelve-year-old is still at work, behind layers of experience from adult life, and how my painting practice is most at home in the gap between biography and fiction. I had read something by the author Per Petterson, about retaining one’s inner savage Viking. The wild character from childhood games who would not respond to the dinner bell when evening falls but would remain in the deep forests. Because, what most would call reality is no match for the joy of play and imagination.
But then Death came, in the shape of a raging gland in my fathers’ abdomen. Overnight he changed from a self-deprecating grin to a desperate howl of pain and fear. I sat by his sickbed, shaken by the horror of this absolute reality. No inner storybook Viking to be found here, proudly sitting on a mountain top, waiting to be summoned to Valhalla. No words of comforting wisdom from the deathbed, no resolving of unresolved matters. Just the sudden, insane collapse. A dream from which he could not wake.
I drew. Dozens of unprecise drawings without lifting my eyes from this wreck of a man in front of me. To comfort myself. Blind contour. And I knew If I didn’t get this right, if my show did not reflect this overwhelming experience, my work would be fraudulent. My inner Viking would be a cowardly escapist and the paintings would be sweet nostalgia. I had to postpone. Håkon Bleken painted his father’s “lit de parade”, a painting hard to look at but even harder to look away from. I wanted to paint my father in free fall between this world and nothing. I wanted to paint a beautiful image of the grotesque and frightening, and I wanted every brushstroke to be an act of comfort. For the man and for the image itself. It took the months it required.
I had wanted this to be an exhibition about the exuberant and life-affirming. And partly it is. Halfway at least. The rest is absence. A blind contour.
The Erased and the Broken
Elling is a storyteller. His layers of imagery evoke memories of childhood, with the possible disturbance and trauma written between the lines. Family is the repetitive theme in Elling’s works; familiar moments infiltrated by surprising or unpleasant elements. The formalistic aspect of Lars Elling’s paintings is characterized by the erased and the broken. The pure visual expression has a meaningful function, where story and poetry are strong fundamentals. The paintings can be seen as a burst of memory, a description of a moment, where the almost experienced or almost seen is presented in a dreamlike and poetic expression, which can be compared to the poetic expressions in the works of Francis Bacon. Also like Bacon, Elling’s works also portray a description of the logic of feelings, and illustrate a beginning, a middle section, and an end, however not in that order.
Elling’s works search in a layered paradox of the intentional/unintentional, though based on a personal pilgrimage into concentrated work and moments of surrender. Lars Elling works with language, but not in the traditional sense. This point can be illustrated by comparing Elling's way of painting to a film by Chantal Ackerman, who is the director of “Toute Une Nuit”. Neither Ackerman nor Elling can be decoded using rigorous structuralism; the character of their works are late in their symbolism, and thus do not escape aspects of melancholy. The film is one of the simplest visual films ever made, where we meet about 50 different people who do little other than embrace each other on a summer night. Still, Ackerman was very precise in writing the scripts of her film, which is surprising, as it is only natural to assume that such a pure visual expression does not require a language. There is a language that can’t be read in a linear way, the language is an emotion or a symbol that only can be expressed through an aesthetic matter.
Elling's layered paintings are painted with the ancient material of egg tempera. Tempera paint dries rapidly and are normally applied in thin, semi-opaque or transparent layers. Tempera painting allows for great precision when used in traditional techniques, which requires an application of numerous small brush strokes. When it dries, it produces a smooth matte finish, as we can see in Elling’s paintings.
I was working in my winter studio in Elgin, outside of Cape Town when the entire world seemed to shut down. The previous year, a large portion of the farm I live on was wiped out by wildfire, and the flora was just beginning to reclaim the scorched earth, when the pandemic struck. It was in the middle of the fruit picking season, and as the workers were leaving and the farm went into quarantine and isolation, the large flocks of baboons that normally roam the hillsides got their courage up and invaded the parts of the farm left untended. They leave a sentry to assess danger and give warning signs. They sit on top of fences or poles to get the best view. When humans leave the scene, wildlife fills the void.
A group of municipal workers, on assignment from the city council were rummaging around in the park close to where I live. Their activities were mysterious. Were they looking for something? Cleaning or preparing something? Their faces and bodies were hidden by yellow raingear, for good reason, since the heavy March weather was making their task difficult.
I thought they represented an interesting color scheme; the bright yellow and the grey drab snow.
Later, I’ve come to think of these characters as dressed up for the pandemic, and so the painting allows for a change in interpretation. But the title remains