Nikolai Astrup – Painting Norway at Dulwich Picture Gallery
Displaying at once complex themes while presenting humble images, this collection of Nikolai Astrup’s paintings and prints is a fantastical cross section of Norse art. Astrup cakes on layers of paint as if he wants to make his work three-dimensional. The colours, while natural, are hectic and vivid. This chaos is balanced by browns and greys that work to make the collection and style cohesive.
The series of paintings and prints are joined by a modern photography exhibit that directly uses Astrup for inspiration. Nexus Animation uses humans clothed in ingenious “forest-sourced” costumes. Barely discernable moss and bark-covered limbs stretch in the corners of a set of large display screens. Blending into each other, the figures shift in a convincingly subtle, wild way to motion sensors acting as the eyes and ears of the woods. At the same time, mystical and beautiful the visuals are best viewed from different angles and distances. Each give a wonderful new perspective on the imperfectly symmetrical pieces. Aptly complementing is a four-part musical composition blending the sounds of the forest and haunting stringed instruments.
The magnum opus of Astrup are the few versions of Midsummer Eve Bonfire, which were painted in the early 20th century. The pieces are wonderful examples of Astrup’s overall work and fill the room with a glow from the bonfires within. The lit-up celebrations are surrounded by a brooding Norwegian shroud that makes the fire and dancers in the centre pop to life. Often hidden in the mountains, haystacks, or shadows are impressions of trolls and monsters. This happens throughout the paintings and creates a sense of mystery and discovery. The effect is also magnified by the modern photography. Both have subtly worked in the idea of magical creatures and a secretive environment.
Astrup’s work is astounding and this is a perfect time to see a vast collection of his uniquely Norse paintings. Further, the opposing yet complementary modern works by the Nexus Animation Studio delve yet deeper into the Norwegian imaginary landscape.
Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway is at Dulwich Picture Gallery from 5th February until 17th May 2016, for further information visit here.