Tomas Lundgren
Reenact
January 19
— February 10, 2017

 

Thursday, 19 January, is the opening day of Reenact, Tomas Lundgren’s first ever gallery exhibition in Stockholm. Lundgren graduated from Valand Academy in 2013, quickly won honours including a Fredrik Roos Art Grant and a Becker’s Art Award, and is already represented in prestigious collections, including Stockholm’s Moderna Museet – outstanding achievements for an artist just over thirty years old.

One’s first encounter with Tomas Lundgren’s art is a very particular sort of experience, a stepping out of time, a shifting mix of recognition, curiosity and fascination. Reinventing painting yet again might seem an impossible task. Yet Lundgren has found a surprisingly facile way of doing exactly that by mining the history of art. It has been a very rich source, indeed

We are proud to present an exhibition of work from several different series of paintings. We are especially happy with the catalogue, featuring a new poem, “Promemoria”, by Charlotte Qvandt, inspired by Tomas Lundgren’s work. Also included are an interview with the artist by Paulina Sokolow and a new essay by author Therese Bohman. 

Anna-Karin Pusic
Michael Elmenbeck
Michael Storåkers

 
 

Incompleteness as knowledge source – Tomas Lundgren on his painting
Interview by Paulina Sokolow

History and memory, the repressed and the shameful, longing and pride, beauty and death. With masterfully assertive painting, he gropes for something buried that seems to demand to come to the surface. Instead of painting a brand new world into existence, he helps repressed realities to emerge – realities languishing in forgotten archives. Meet Becker Award and Fredrik Roos Grant recipient Tomas Lundberg, who is currently mounting his first solo show in Stockholm.

Tomas Lundberg was born in Uddevalla, where his parents moved to do medical internships. Both are physicians. During his childhood, paper and pencil were never more than arm’s length away, at home or at school.

”I never paint freely, from imagination. I always draw other pictures – things that I like or that catch my interest. I’d rather copy than build a brand new world. Today I’m doing paintings that look like pencil drawings. Before I went to art school, it was the other way around: my pencil drawings looked like oil paintings. Painting has a more interesting history than drawing. The community of painters is centuries-old.”

He describes his process as follows: ”I don’t work with colours, but rather with tones. When I see a shade of grey, I know which grey would correspond to it in a painting. I’ve cut out everything unnecessary and work according to a strict system of rules that I’ve created for myself. Only a certain brush, a certain type of canvas, and only two colours, ebony and titanium white. Even with such an austere set of rules, I notice that a vast world opens up. I find endless amounts of things to explore, even when I paint the same motif over and over. A tiny change of perspective or light leads to the next painting and the next again. I’m the sort of person who likes to set limits for himself and become obsessed with something. Once a canvas is filled, it’s finished. It’s like laying a puzzle.”

Painting is one thing and the content itself, the choice of motif, is another. ”I’m interested in the past. In memory. Especially the period from the late 19th to mid-20th century – a period that shaped much of what we consider modern, of what we are today. So much revolved around scientific advances during those years. The human and the human body stood at centre-stage, both scientifically and artistically. As the 19th century drew to a close, the two perspectives increasingly merged: art did things for science, and science received help from art. What was happening in art was absolutely related to science, and when photography was invented, it turned the whole idea of painting on its head.”  

One of the less well-known, abortive grand fantasies of the Nazi era was the idea that the Germans did not, as science suggested, originate on the African continent. Instead, they looked eastwards to Tibet. In 1938, a year before the invasion and the beginning of the war, an expedition led by Ernst Schäfer headed out to document the population. Some of the Schäfer Expedition’s inadvertently artless photos have been revived by Tomas Lundgren and turned into portraits. 

Sweden is anything but innocent of promoting such ideas. Categorisation of people was not associated with now-discredited right-wing ideologies at the time; rather, it was standard fare. The Swedish State Institute for Racial Biology was founded in 1922 with the support of all the parties in Parliament, though there were critical voices. Carolus Linnaeus’ vision of naming and categorising the world’s plants and animals evolved into a dream of dividing people into more and less valuable categories.

”This has been a big interest of mine, how people were portrayed in the name of science. By the time I grew interested in this theme, more and more institutions were digitising their archives, and suddenly everything was accessible. The dark past was leaking out. Its ethical lapses were coming to light.”

In Tomas Lundberg’s hands, these forgotten, humiliated, diminished and dominated individuals are elevated to portraits, “an ancient, extinct genre”, as he puts it.

”What kind of people have their portrait painted? Important people: the wealthy, priests, kings. A portrait is a way of holding them up to be admired. They are worth an oil painting. That was my original idea, too. It became a tool for understanding these events, bringing them down to the level of the individual. Ultimately, it’s people who ended up being the focus.”

”Am I just repeating the violence stored in the archives, or am I shining a light on it? It’s not obvious to me. Most of the people I’m painting have been dead for at least 70 years, so there’s a gulf. They are almost like ghosts. There’s so much missing from our connection, but its very incompleteness is what is interesting. This is why I avoid sharp contrasts and let the uniformly grey, bleached out, damaged quality underscore the fact that this is the past. I have to fill in as best I can. I’m making something out of the fact there’s something missing. This is the aspect I’m fascinated with, that the photos are ambiguous, incomplete evidence of people’s lives. They are the presence of the absent.”