“…this gives me a reminder of being close to nature. This is a time where I can be completely alone and realize how insignificant I am. This is a good way to chase the fear of failing out of my mind.”
June 6th, 2017 by M. Elise Hillestad
The placid, ethereal paintings of Norwegian painter Odin Borgen bring to mind never-ending midsummer days in the “land of midnight sun,” bonfires by the sea with women all in white, ritual and a rich, old heritage of craft and culture. His figures often gaze out pensively at an unknown something; others lie swept up in tornadoes of flowers and hair, bathed in the cold blues of Norwegian light. Some of the women are youthful, some ripening in years; all feel tranquil. His images bring a sense of summer to the heart and eyes – a much needed respite from the world’s troubles. In the simplicity of moments alone in nature, we can connect to the most elementally human parts of our selves. Those parts that we all share in common. In my conversation with Odin below, he speaks about the Norwegian landscape, and how its wild winters produce these beautifully warming images.
M: What themes or archetypes are most important for your work?
Odin: Compassionate relations and everyday life situations in which we as humans conduct ourselves, are to be found in many of my paintings. Situations which give reflection of the individual, thoughts about the past and the future, and which together hopefully lead to a curiosity and self-reflection by the viewer. That is what I hope to achieve.
Who do I think I am? And does this self image relate to the origin that lies in me, and isn’t affected by external surroundings. Being close to nature and the intelligence surrounding us in everything fascinates me as well.
M: Describe what an ideal day in the studio might look like for you.
Odin: An ideal day starts at 4 am, on a winter’s day. On my way to the studio, there is only me, the snow and the sky. For me this is an exquisite time in Norway where silence is at its deepest. A time where everything lies fallow except the elements and eternity. The lethal cold brings forward the vulnerability and the sky sets the perspective. The blistering cold that swallows the frosty air and forces the body into survival mode, this gives me a reminder of being close to nature. This is a time where I can be completely alone and realize how insignificant I am. This is a good way to chase the fear of failing out of my mind. Inside the studio walls I find joy in preparing the palette and placing a newly prepared canvas on the easel with the hope for a better painting this time. Olafur Arnald’s music sets me in a good mood to work these days, accompanied by a cup of tea with honey. Next, what brings me true joy is working undisturbed.
M: Which painters, sculptors, or other creators are you enjoying looking at right now?
Odin: I always have something lying about or hanging on the wall. It can be in the form of a book, or small clippings that I have attached to the wall in my studio. Some paintings I look at as a whole, in others I might like the motive, the material, the colors, or the vibes. There are a few painters I look at more often than others, like Rembrandt, Turner, Carrière, Carravagio and Repin. You will always find an open book with Odd Nerdrum’s paintings in my studio. He is a fantastic painter, who expresses a story in an irresistible way. He has had a great impact on the way I paint today.
M: What drew you to painting figuratively?
Odin: There are two paintings that come to mind as my first memories of paintings. One of them was a reproduction of a crying boy with a piece of bread. It hung in my grandma’s stairwell. I can remember the attraction, curiosity and compassion this boy gave me at the time. The other reproduction was “Bjerk I storm”(Birch in storm) by J.C. Dahl, a painting from the period of Norwegian national romanticism. I can remember the fascination with the craftsmanship, and the drama of the birch clinging to the edge of the mountain, and the fight against external forces. In my home we had a book on the history of art, and I remember it was only the first part of the book that interested me. Through my childhood I have memories of my encounters with paintings and the fascination this brought forth, what was in common was the figurative expression. Because of my deep respect for the work of previous painters, many years passed by before I made a genuine effort to paint. For several years it was music that gave me creative satisfaction. When I later on in my life moved my focus towards painting, there was never a question about not painting figuratively. Conveying is important to me in the two dimensional work and figuration has the form and means I need for my work. Other expressions would be hard to work within because of the mediating to the viewer on a deeper level.
M: Can you tell us about a project you’re in the midst of that excites you?
Odin: Right now I’m working on paintings where the connection with nature emerges. Early in life I spent a lot of time in nature. Again, I find peace and satisfaction by being in nature and I find a fascination for life. The intelligence and wealth, but also the diversity of life gives me perspective and makes me humble. It also brings forth honesty about how little I actually know after all, both about life and myself.
M: If you could share a drink and conversation with any 3 painters, dead or living, who would you choose and what would be your libation?
Odin: A hard choice, because history offers countless painters whose knowledge exceeds my own limits and to whom I would have personal gain and joy of meeting first hand. If the choice between three painters isn´t hard enough, I’m afraid that this kind of meeting would be at risk of overwhelming my impressionable skill and ending in a withdrawn vacuum. That being said, one meeting would be enough for me, and that would be with Rembrandt van Rijn. Preferably at his studio while he’s working on a self-portrait from his elderly years. The drink of choice would have to be mead, because of the traditions attached to my name.
for more from Odin Borgen: