In the Agora: Aukrust’s intention & serendipity
Controlled serendipity: a conversation with Norwegian artist Lars Aukrust
New York’s Chelsea neighborhood is renowned for its art scene. Before Chelsea, New York’s SoHo reigned supreme, and Agora Gallery was conceived and born in that neighborhood in 1984. It later moved, as did many other galleries, looking for more affordable rent, and it now thrives housed in two floors of gallery space.
Unlike other galleries, from its inception Agora has been a trendsetter in terms of its raison d’être as a caring collective and nurturer of artists. It is more than a place that sells art; founder Miki Stiles was an “international artist, who came to New York City to pursue a professional art career and found the New York City art scene a very closed-off, unwelcoming market,” according to a gallery rep. To counter that, Agora offers support for each artist, from the practical—how to properly pack and ship their pieces—to the more lofty—a place to exhibit their work and have it seen by a substantial audience.
The gallery’s name is derived from a Greek word that translates as “open marketplace.” Agora represents artists from around the world. The gallery has created a marketplace for creators and buyers, known as ARTmine. According to the gallery’s website, it “is one of the most comprehensive contemporary fine art resources available worldwide. ARTmine provides collectors, consultants, art buyers, architects, and interior designers the opportunity to view and purchase original artwork by local and international artists.”
Angela Di Bello, Director of Agora, adds, “In the current art market, it is nearly impossible to ignore the strong, noteworthy voices from all across the world. By keeping our doors open to artists regardless of their background, we’ve been able to keep our gallery space fresh with some fascinating artwork from every continent.” Many Norwegian artists have benefited from this gallery’s global perspective, including Lars Aukrust and Hilde Gustava.
Lars Aukrust’s work will be in a group exhibit at Agora Gallery, From Here to There, which will run from March 8 to March 29. Painting is in Aukrust’s blood: his great-uncle Kjell Aukrust was a respected Norwegian artist and was Lars’s teacher.
Three elements stood out to me when I viewed Aukrust’s work: color, motion, and shape. His work is dreamlike and symbolic.
In his own words, Aukrust states, “When I start a new painting, I have no concrete plans. I just start to paint in an abstract and serendipitous way. After a while, ideas form; the painting gets its own life, and my role is to develop it to completion. I believe the element of controlled serendipity is a key to exciting canvases.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Aukrust about his work.
Victoria Hofmo: You say you use intention and serendipity as part of your technique. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Lars Aukrust: I believe that if you, as a painter, want to go beyond the limitation of your fantasy, you need to introduce an element of serendipity in your process (controlled serendipity).
Usually I start a new painting with no idea of any motif. I pour liquid paint onto a flat canvas, tilt, and use big brushes to mix and distribute the color around on the canvas. I try to direct the flow of paint to establish interesting forms and color combinations. At this point there is a fair amount of serendipity. Also the painting is totally abstract. I let it dry, and then take a careful look from all four sides. If I do not see anything particular that vaguely resembles something natural, I repeat the process, sometimes for as many as five or 10 times. Each time I may keep interesting forms, and then paint over the rest. Sooner or later I discover one or several forms that reminds me of something, often a human face or body, or animals. Then starts a second phase of the process where I develop the painting… The process starts off very loose and abstract, but in the final stages it can be very detailed and concrete.
Let me use the painting of a man and a horse, in brown on a light blue background, as an example. Here the whole canvas first was brownish, abstract, with some vague, darker forms. Suddenly I saw the possibility of developing a man and a head of horse. The dark spots were like shadows. So I painted the blue color, starting at the borders. The forms of the man and horse slowly grew out and became clear and sharp. The final forms are partly flat and partly three dimensional. This triggers the mind of the viewer.
Also the fact that parts of the horse are nowhere to be seen is unnatural, and thus is something that pulls the viewer into the painting. The muzzle of the horse needed nothing from my hand, whereas I did choose to suggest an eye on the horse head. The silhouette of the man’s head shows a tip of his nose, some shadow under his chin, but nothing more, leaving to the viewer to extrapolate and interpret the rest, thus creating interest.
VH: What do you wish to evoke?
LA: I strive to increase and optimize three elements in my paintings:
1) Paintings need to be interesting. A painting should contain something familiar to the viewer, something that they understand and can relate to. But the painting should absolutely not just render reality with photographic accuracy… Furthermore, paintings should have something that triggers the imagination and challenges your eyes. This could be distorting the motif, creative use of perspective, unexpected use of colors, etc.
2) Paintings need to be beautiful, attractive, or decorative. That means use of harmonic colors, solid composition, etc. The audience should want to decorate their home or office with the painting.
3) Paintings should show as much artistic value added as possible. A viewer should be able to see the touch of the artist, and recognize his personal style. This may be the ultimate goal, and this is what distinguishes great art.
VH: Animals, especially horses, are frequent subjects. What does the horse mean to you?
LA: There is a hierarchy of motifs that is familiar to humans. The strongest and most well-known motifs are faces and human bodies, followed by animals, and landscapes and other things further down the list. Just think of humans’ fantastic ability to recognize different faces… So the well-known motifs render themselves well to art because they can be distorted and suggested to an unlimited degree, and still we would easily see what they represent. Picasso is a good example of a painter who distorted human faces and figures to an incredible degree, and still we have no problems recognizing what they are. The necessary sorting out is something that engages us. Accordingly, when I search for forms in my initial serendipitous washes of paint, it is not surprising that possible faces, humans, and animals are what I most easily discover and choose to develop.
Also I should mention that my family comes from Alvdal, a small farming village in the center of Norway, in the Østerdalen valley. As a kid I spent all my summers there. As a Norwegian who is fond of nature and the mountains, horses, reindeers, and the midnight sun are motifs that I am familiar with and feel related to. My late uncle, Kjell Aukrust, was a very famous artist and author. He taught me to paint and draw. There is a large museum in Alvdal dedicated to his art. (www.aukrustsenteret.no).
“This ink drawing by Kjell Aukrust shows two of his figures, Solan and Ludvig, in front of a painting «The Boys on the Bridge», paraphrasing Edvard Munch’s famous «The women on the bridge».
Unfortunately most of his extraordinary humorous writing is only in Norwegian. There have been made several animation movies based on his stories and figures. Three years ago Jul i Flåjkypa sold 700,000 tickets, which is huge in Norway.
VH: I found the pieces “The Cello Concert in Central Park” and “Arthur the Director” quite amusing. The same creature is the center of both pieces. Is it an aardvark?
LA: Arthur the artist is a figure that suddenly just appeared one day when I was letting the brush just flow and sketching in free fantasy. I thought he was adorable. The idea came that maybe I could add him as a central motif in my paintings, maybe even make a series of paintings of him in various artistic settings. His name, Arthur, is just reflecting on that he seems to be an artist himself. Using a figure like him in paintings would be for me a slightly different approach to painting. He would be something I could always add, if the rest of the painting suggested or needed it.
As a matter of fact, my uncle Kjell Aukrust was hugely successful using lots of humor in his small ink drawings. Arthur can also be said to be inspired by the variety of characters introduced by Kjell. But humor in large paintings? Maybe.
Accordingly I have so far only made the two paintings with Arthur you have seen. I thought I should first show them in public, and see how people react to them before I make a series. The little guy has short arms, which is a challenge for him. It would be difficult for him to manage a violin, but he could play a cello. I love the U.S. nearly as much as I love Norway, and a concert in Central Park seemed like a fun setting. This is actually an example of a painting where I diverted from my usual process since I knew from the start what I wanted to paint. There are no rules in art that cannot be broken.
VH: Why did you choose to tie that animal to the musical pieces?
LA: I do play jazz piano, and if you search for my name on Spotify or iTunes you will find an album (Soft Jazz and Old Wine, a duo with Steven Rogers) that I made during a recent stay in the U.S. where I worked at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., as science counselor. Music and painting are two sides of my artistic interests.
VH: How is “What Does the Fox Say?” commenting on the hit Norwegian video?
LA: This painting has to do with rendering speed in a still painting. It is quite big and it makes a strong statement on the wall. The way I dissolved, split, and bent the legs of the animals suggests fast movement. Likewise, the placement of the animals in the frame, as well as the simplified background, adds to the sense of speed. The animal to the left is a fox, but it is unclear what the other one is, and also why they are running.
This painting was finalized approximately when the video song “What Does the Fox Say?” was hot. So it just seemed natural to name the painting accordingly… The fact that the title is not 100% explained is really something that is meant to add to the magic of the painting.
To learn more about Lars Aukrust and his work, visit www.larsaukrust.com. For more info about Agora Gallery’s Norwegian artists, keep reading NAW.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.