In the Agora: Gustava’s textural and mystical works

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery Hilde Gustava, Searching for the Right Symbols, Acrylic on Canvas, 27.5 x 27.5.

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery
Hilde Gustava, Searching for the Right Symbols, Acrylic on Canvas, 27.5 x 27.5.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Lars Aukrust, a Norwegian artist showing at Agora Gallery in New York. This week we bring you another Norwegian, Hilde Gustava. There is a certain vitality and vibrancy found in the work of both Norwegian artists, as well as a sense of symbolism. Both Aukrust and Gustava’s use of color is phenomenal. However, in Hilde’s palette red dominates and the forms in her work are more abstract; her images vibrate. I had an opportunity to speak with Gustava about how and why she became an artist, her work, and her inclusion in an upcoming Agora Gallery exhibition.

Victoria Hofmo: Could you speak a little about how you became an artist and why?

Hilde Gustava: I think I was born to create and use my fantasy. But when I was a child, I thought I would end up as either a dancer or actress. I was a single child living on the countryside in Norway with no organized activities, so I made my own plays with me as the main characters and my dolls and soft toys as co-actors/actresses. I sewed costumes and drew stage carpets, made scenography, and so on.

In the winter season in the part of Norway where I grew up, it is very cold… so I think I drew most of my afternoons and evenings, and my inner world could be shared through pencils and paper. If the paper box was empty, I started to draw upon wooden logs. And from that I started to make sculptures. I used nature in the summertime to create “big pictures” on the lawn with stones, soil, flowers, leaves, etc. In the evening the lawn was a carpet of “cartoon” stories—to my mother’s despair (it was a horror to cut the lawn). After that I went on to make “nature pictures” in the woods and also I “decorated” trees.

When I started to study, I was split between many directions. But I started in university with philosophy classes and at the same time went to drawing and painting classes. I also have an Arts and Craft Teacher’s Degree. I love to teach and get to know people, and I love philosophy and get inspired by discussions and exchanging knowledge from different cultures and skills. I took both a Teaching Degree and an Art Degree at University and College because I like to be inspired by teaching and learning from students.

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery Hilde Gustava and assistant at work in her atelier.

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery
Hilde Gustava and assistant at work in her atelier.

I think we artists are lucky because we have a great opportunity to investigate and find “new things “ on our way—and by that I feel so blessed and privileged—but on the other side cursed—because I feel I never have enough time to put my ideas out in the real world.

My relatives and friends would tell you that I was born with too much imagination, too much curiosity, and a sensitive heart. I have always—since I was really little, about two years old—loved to draw my imaginings and my surroundings. I was always busy and curious by nature. When my grandmother taught me to knit I was five: she found me sleeping with the knitting in my hands. Later as an art student, I made free-fantasy knitted carpets and clothes: I got bored by “recipes,” and liked to create my own style.

I think I just need to be an artist to be happy and fulfill my purpose through my imagination and creativity.

VH: Red often dominates your vibrant pieces, juxtaposed with chartreuse. Can you speak about what those colors mean to you?

HG: I know a lot about color theory from art school and my own studies, also chromotherapy color theory, the cultural and historical meanings of colors… But when I work in my atelier I do not think of these theories; I just feel the colors that fit with my soul and creativity. I want to express my spirituality. The most mysterious and unpredictable art comes out when I just use and trust my feelings.

After I am finished with a series of work, I can find it interesting to “research” my own color combinations and themes in general… I am occupied with spiritual energies, and very often it “fits” the energies of angels, chakras… I will not go further here to explain my personal spiritual journey, but I believe those who are interested in such or have knowledge of such will understand my paintings very well.

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery Pi in Red and Orange Sunset, Acrylic on Canvas, 39.5 x 39.5.

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery
Pi in Red and Orange Sunset, Acrylic on Canvas, 39.5 x 39.5.

VH: Your technique begins with “sculpting the surface of your canvas [with] materials, such as sand, bird seed and cement.” How did you come up with that technique?

HG: I used to love sculpting with clay when I studied to be an Arts and Craft Teacher in my early 20s; I started to experiment with using plaster casts to make sculptures, and from them I have continued to experiment with sand, concrete, wood, old clothes… Yes, I painted and mixed everything.

In my arts and crafts education we also learned to use all kinds of materials, make paper, color our own wool using natural pigments. We tried old techniques, and all these materials and very good professors made my mind explode—I wanted to try everything! I still do a lot of arts and craft work and mix these with readymades. I also make huge wooden flowers and paint ancient symbols on them, do performance, theatre, and crossover projects… So of course I like to experiment with the surface of the canvases, too.

VH: Your treatment of your canvas is reminiscent of the New York artist Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917). He would add tobacco juice, varnish, wax, oil resin, and painted layers to evoke tones and textures. Are you familiar with his work and have you been influenced by him?

HG: I am sorry to say I never heard of him, but I will definitely check him out! He sounds like my “soulmate” in the way he experimented with different media and techniques. I remember during the study of nude art models in art school, we sometimes used coffee and sticks to draw the naked bodies. I later combined coffee with charcoal, pastels, and watercolors on paper sheets.

So the answer to your question is that I get very inspired by just putting myself in an atelier with a lot of space, different media, tools, materials… I do not think anybody has influenced me directly, but I have admired and admire many artists, of course!

VH: In a press release about your upcoming exhibit at the Agora Gallery they mention your use of the pi and infinity symbols. Can you explain what these mean to you?

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery The Great Journey of Pi and Me 3, Acrylic on Canvas, 39.5 x 59.

Photo courtesy of Agora Gallery
The Great Journey of Pi and Me 3, Acrylic on Canvas, 39.5 x 59.

HG: I am very occupied by ancient spiritual and religious symbols, as well as mathematical and practical ones… In those represented in Agora there is mostly pi and the symbol of infinity, and they are represented in one way or the other in everything I do.

I think it all started when I was five years old, and I was standing beside my beloved grandmother and looked upon the evening sky with a very full moon. And I asked how big the moon was if “we were there.” And she replied it is not so big in the great universe. You know, Hilde, the Universe is endless… And after that I couldn’t sleep, and I regularly had nightmares about falling down from the Earth and out in the dark infinity…

I was passionately occupied with the Universe, and the idea that it must have “a wall in the end.” Later on when my math teacher told us that pi had an endless amount of decimals, I felt it was so magical that a symbol that was so practical and was used every day in construction, etc… I feel that my artistic pi is endless.

I think it is fascinating to study ancient symbols and how they developed understanding and communities. I find it extremely interesting to dig into Mysteries, Alchemy, Spirituality, Wisdom, know about different religions, culture… And one can understand a little bit more through the study of symbols and signs, I think. On top of that, I find many of them very esthetic and beautiful.

VH: What does the showing of your work at Agora Gallery mean to you, in terms of your journey as an artist?

HG: I have a lot of art with the theme “The Journey,” and I see the upcoming exhibition in Agora as extremely important on many levels. This is the first time I am exhibiting outside of Europe, and […] I think this exhibition will be the beginning of a bigger artistic journey for me. Agora can be the gate to something great. I really hope so, because I am determined to be someone to consider, and to be in the art history books in the future.

VH: Is there anything you would like to add?

HG: I would like to add that I am very thankful for the professional work Agora Gallery did for me and a lot of artists from all over the world who have reached a level where they want to be seen internationally.

I am thankful that director Angela di Bello and her team invited me to exhibit in their great gallery in the Big Apple. I hope this leads to further possibilities to exhibit in the U.S.

I also have made an art project with support from the government with elderly people with dementia. We had an exhibition and reception in the Town Hall! It was fantastic how their minds opened up through music and art. I have a mantra: Art will make people happier and healthier because you nurture your soul. I would love to try to do similar things in New York or other places in USA!

It would be so much fun to get in touch with Americans with Norwegian ancestors, because I have an art project going on with the name “All you need is love…?” with the theme of immigration, migration. As you probably know we have a migration museum in Norway that focuses on Norwegians who immigrated to the U.S. and mostly arrived in the port of New York.

We have a huge migration challenge in Europe, and that makes some national-oriented people scared and even evil, working against our duty to welcome people running from war and despair. A lot of Norwegians have a relative in the U.S., and I think it is interesting to put a historical perspective on what is going on right now.

So: If anybody who reads this interview gets an interest or idea, I would be so, so thankful and happy to cooperate to create something exciting and beautiful!

Agora Gallery represents artists from across the world. I asked Angela Di Bello, Gallery Director, to speak specifically about these two Norwegian artists. She said, “Though these two artists have very different styles, voices, and backgrounds, Aukrust and Gustava explore key concepts of philosophy, art, and human behavior in their works. Aukrust and Gustava do their nation proud by offering such intellectual and aesthetically impressive works to the New York art market.”

Gustava’s work can be seen at Agora Gallery’s upcoming exhibition “Collective,” which can be seen from April 26 to May 17, 2016. Agora is located at 530 West 25th St.

This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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