Views from a Balcony

"View from the Balcony" oil on canvas, by Ulf Nilsen. Photo:

"View from the Balcony" oil on canvas, by Ulf Nilsen. Photo:

Renowned Norwegian artist Ulf Nilsen shares his thoughts on art and life

By Line Grundstad Hanke

Line Grundstad Hanke Interior Design

It was a very windy and rainy fall day in Oslo and I was delighted to have some time to be indoors and see some art. Renowned Norwegian artist Ulf Nilsen’s show “Views From a Balcony” was on display at the Kunsterforbundet in Oslo, and I was very fortunate to be in town to see the art show and also to meet with him in person.

The paintings intrigued me and I found myself wandering through the gallery, viewing them over and over again looking for the message and admiring the paint techniques. Nilsen’s paintings are large in scale, and it was nice to see them in a gallery and not in a studio setting.

Ulf Nilsen was nice to take the time to meet with me in his busy schedule just before he was off on his trip to gather more inspiration for future art work. I was full of questions but I felt it was best to let him talk and walk me through the show one painting at the time, I was delighted to be a part of his world and I must say the paintings came alive in a different way after he talked about each one of the paintings.

“Views From a Balcony” shows paintings from a beach setting and can be viewed as a written diary, understood as something that has been but also of a future dream of what it could be. The art show is framed by Ulf Nilsen’s written poems of happenings at the beach on a special day. The words mirror an event most of us can recognize, to lay at the beach and look up into the sky. Wondering and fantasizing.

"At Day's End" oil on canvas, by Ulf Nilsen. Photo:

"At Day's End" oil on canvas, by Ulf Nilsen. Photo:

In the art show, we see images of people digging in the sand, collecting drift wood at the beach. This is how the story starts. What are they looking for? Are they to build something? Do they stand up from the sand or are they sinking? All the paintings represent known situations to us. But suddenly one understand something does not make sense. You always find a silence in his paintings.

The mirror on the floor makes the art show come alive and we are drawn into the sky and it makes a connection between the water sand and the earth. The mirror makes us feel like we are floating, the sky comes into the room. The dream and reality meets in the mirror. The viewers presence and relationship to the art becomes stronger when they meet their eyes in the mirror. The illusions breaks down. Reality is suddenly alive in the dreams. Ulf Nilsen works with a path, etterklang (echoes) and memories. Time as an essence.

In his work, we see a common thread with the study of water, earth, air and fire. The transparency of water combined with the painting as something real, concrete and physical. One can easily say that Ulf Nilsen is fascinated with the excitement between the concrete and tvetydige (sublime). Dream and

reality. During our visit, I asked him some questions.

Line Grundstad Hanke: When was it that you knew you wanted to become an artist?

Ulf Nilsen: I have always drawn and painted ever since I was a child and launched into field of art at the age of 20.

LGH: How has art influenced you in your life?

UN: Being an artist is like being a parent: one is on the job 24 – 7. Unlike a 9 to 5 job, I never take a break. My art is my life.

LGH: What is it that still makes you tick or gives you inspiration after all these years?

UN: Every exhibition I make is different from the previous. The fact that I refuse to repeat myself forces me to examine my approach to art in a new way and there by challenges me in an inspiring way to develop myself.

LGH: Do you always have a meaning in mind before you paint, or does it appear in the process?

UN: I, like most painters, make my choices based on intuition. It is often not until long after the painting is finished that I can fully understand what the work is expressing. But my theme, man in relation to nature, is of course clear in my mind always as it has been an ongoing theme for decades.

LGH: Art must have made you free as a person and given you plenty of opportunities. How do you select to stay true and not to give in to the mass production or sell out as an artist?

UN: Money is not important to me. If it was, I would have chosen a commercial field.

LGH: After meeting you and viewing your latest show, I felt a strong connection to the universe and I felt you had a strong message to the man in a kind and friendly way. Is this something you will build on, or will we see a new or different path next time?

UN: Time will tell.

LGH: You have art installed all over. Is there a place more dear to you?

UN: I focus is on making exhibitions. What happens to the paintings after the exhibition is not something I give a whole lot of thought. I am pleased, however, when the individual paintings find a “home.”

LGH: How do you want to be understood as an artist? Are we to look into your art and make our own experience?

UN: The viewer is free to interpret my work in his or her own way. What is important to me is that the work communicates something to the viewer. That something can be different from what I read in my work.

Gallery of "View from a Balcony." Photo:

Gallery of "View from a Balcony." Photo:

Ulf Nilsen was born in Trondheim in 1950, and studied at Statens Kunstakademi in Oslo from 1973 – 1978. He now lives and works in Asker, Norway.

Nilsen has held a wide variety of solo and group exhibitions in Norway and abroad. He was a member of Gruppe Zink with Bjørn Carlsen, Leonard Rickhard and Bjørg Hoene in the 1980s. Nilsen was also featured in the Ibsen 2006 collection, which toured Norway, London, Berlin and several cities in the U.S.

This is an artist with high recognition and enthusiasm, and I feel we have a lot of interesting work coming from him in the years to come. Take the time to see his work if you happen to be close to an art show or follow him in he media. I am always intrigued with art that makes us think and feel and I thank him for my private tour and lecture.

To see more pieces by Ulf Nilsen, visit online;Ulf-Nilsen.

This article was originally published in the Jan. 28 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email

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