Recently we visited the fantastic Prince Waldemarsudde’s museum on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm as it’s always a beautiful place to go even if you don’t think much of the exhibitions. This time they were having a retrospective of the Swedish artist Gosta Adrian-Nilsson or GAN (1884-1965). No I’d never heard of him either. But what a revelation it was. Cubist paintings which absolutely dazzled with colour and light. They shot out of the dimly lit gallery and splintered into your mind.
GAN was a pioneer of futurism and cubism in Sweden in the 1910’s and 20’s and the exhibition featured about 125 of his paintings, drawings, collages and sketches. They’re beautifully made (paint still gleaming and fresh) compared to a painter such as Picasso and being a closeted gay man many of the paintings had a masked homo-erotic aspect. Sailors, athletes, beautiful young men all in a cubist symphony of form. I just loved the groups of sailors in their uniforms. (And I must say the uniforms in Sweden are the best I’ve seen. All the police, army, train inspectors, whoever are dressed in very stylish uniforms. They’re scary and cool at the same time. A bit like GAN’s paintings.) Though there’s whimsicalness in his paintings too that became more obvious in his illustrations and children’s book later in his life.
Many painters picked up cubism and abandoned it and GAN did too. Though for the early part of the 20th century it was a style that seemed to embody for many artists a way they could express a changed sense of speed, dimension, new visual complexity and ideas in their environments. But the cubist line is definitely not a sensuous one.
I painted cubistically for a little while- to try to understand it. But it’s like painting with a straight jacket on. You simply can’t express yourself fully in that style. It’s the opposite of expressionism which is my natural home. (Though they are both after more reality- one tries to understand reality by analysing space. The other by uncovering emotional truth. )
It’s a fantastic show and well worth seeing if you happen to be in Stockholm. The catalogue was entirely in Swedish but I bought it anyway as the pictures are good quality reproductions. Though he should have a wider audience, so it was a shame the curator didn’t produce something in English.
Feb 19-May29 2011
Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.