The benefits of bankruptcy
Interview with Are Blytt
Are you a politically interested person? Do you ever consider possible political implications of your work? How do current political and environmental issues inform your work?
Are Blytt: Aren’t all artists political in some broader sense? I’ve always felt that my decision to work with art was a form of activism, resisting a general system of capitalism and it’s choice of values. In this sense I think of all paintings as political, whether they are figurative or abstract. I think artworks can create and explore different intellectual spaces, which can be important in the development of a society. Being a child of 1968-generation parents though, I also grew up around artworks which often were very political charged or judgmental in some form, and not opening up to any discussion or discourse.
I would say that my paintings always have some kind of political aspect, but not necessarily an agenda. I like to work with small visual or textual snippets or hints, open enough not to freeze up the painting in a single minded intention. I would very much like to exhibit the works in a show that emphasizes these aspects, or put them into a curatorial setting where this is tested, but I think mainly I’m regarded as an abstract painter.
For the First Time, 2019 (Detail), acrylic in linen canvas, 133 x 94 cm
Is there a leitmotif to your work? How important is the craft? Are you interested in certain materials or techniques? What are your influences?
AB: The craft, if referred to in the traditional sense, is important and a painter’s toolbox is now bigger and more diverse than ever. For me a successful painting deals with aesthetics, contemporary relevance, craft, history, life, politics etc. I prefer several layers operating or talking at the same time in a single work, if possible. A canvas can be filled with many stories at once, both parallel and conflicting, it can basically be filled with anything, both intellectual and physical. I guess another aspect is that the artist fills it with him- or herself, and I try to do just that, to load the works with myself. I also try to integrate and accept certain decorative aspects of painting as part of the work. That is maybe still a reaction to my time at the art school, where abstraction was the dominant theme.
Lately the pure abstract has been growing on me again, as a room without words. A very recent show I saw, and found very uplifting in regards to painting was a retrospective on Lebanese artist Simone Fattal at Bergen Kunsthall. Her paintings and collages have a very intriguing and powerful balance between political observations and painterly execution.
What is your interest in photography? What made you recently decide to show your photography as single works?
AB: Photography is a beautiful way of capturing life and moments in time. I admire photographers that concentrate, observe and wait for the moment. I am not a big fan of the digital-post-production-and-photoshop-school or the possibility of doing hundreds of photos in a minute. I like the photo to work when taken in a single shot, or not to work and then be trashed. Maybe like a canvas? I very seldom crop or anything like that. Either it works or not. To deal with life through observation is a space that feels to me as an important counterweight to academic thinking.
Photography, both found material and my own, has been a part of my paintings for some time, as paper collages, printed with silk screen or painted on the canvas. I was accepted to art school with painting and photography, both mediums were a mix between abstract and ‘life’, but there was no encouragement to continue photography, so for many years this has been something I did for myself and my personal archive. 2019 was the first time I showed framed photographs together with paintings at Galerie Alber in Cologne. I feel that within contemporary photography there are still unlocked doors to enter or new areas to explore, maybe even more so than in contemporary painting.
No title VIII, 2019, archival pigment print on baryt paper, 20 x 30 cm
What is the relationship of your work to language? How do you approach using language and text in your work?
AB: I’m intrigued by the idea that words carry some kind of soul, a connotative bubble, in which you can say very little, but still address something bigger. One word, set in a specific context, can be enough to start a line of thought or a cognitive process. Beside that language also has a highly aesthetical quality for me. I see images when I read words. In the paintings the words have a strong figurative purpose, I think of them as images.
The Benefits of Bancruptcy, 2018 (Detail), acrylic on linen canvas, 220 x 214 cm
How important are books? How do they integrate into your practice? What are the potentials and the difficulties concerning books as an art form?
AB: I certainly love books and I think they are important as a medium. I refer to them both as physical objects as well as archives, containing knowledge of different kinds. I don’t see many potential difficulties concerning books as an art form, since I equally like both classic monographs and more autonomous artist books. They coexist while performing different tasks or agendas. However, as with painting, the physical aspect is important to me. If printed matter is turning into digital matter only, then something is lost.
Being, 100 pages, Offset, 26 x 19,5 cm, Galleri K and the artist, Oslo, March 2020
Does your instagram account reflect your practice? Or your personality? Aside from the obvious collection of user data by a corporation, do you think it still works as a social network?
AB: I see myself primarily as a user here. As such, I sometimes enjoy Instagram and the never-ending flow of photography. On the other hand it’s an easy-listening-social-media-platform and not my preferred place for slow thinking or presentation of art works. There are also too many aspects of marketing and propaganda intersecting the content. Maybe Instagram has become a new format of an art magazine, but the whole format with little text and and overall missing context is not very attractive in the long run. For reproduction I still prefer print, especially offset printed media. Still, there is no substitute for seeing painting in real life.
Boy, 2020 (Detail), acrylic on linen canvas, 147 x 106 cm
One realization in the current pandemic is that we are one social body, dependent on each other on so many levels. How can this possibly positively influence an individual? A society? The art world?
AB: To be honest, this current situation is a bit overwhelming and I have a very bad feeling about this. In 2015 I did a work with text engraved in stone, the text taken from an inscription outside of a church from around 1350, during the European plague. The inscription ‘Cito, Longe, Tarde’ roughly translates from Latin to ‘fly quickly, go far, return slowly’. This is quite the opposite than the idea of a social-body-dependent-on-each-other, transferred to our contemporary setting it would read as: We, the people, should be prepared to live in an increased solitude for a long time and therefore battle the pandemic together.
I am not sure how this will positively influence the art world, as it seems like a very heavy bankruptcy on so many levels, not only economically. On the other hand this could be an opportunity to rebuild, reset and redefine a system we were born into. We are now not only in a crisis situation regarding health, but also in a political moment, where a new normal is going to be shaped, or at least there is now a possible momentum for this?
Mothers, 2019 (Detail), acrylic on linen canvas, 136 x 96 cm
What are this year’s consequences for you personally and for your work? What are your next projects?
AB: Me personally, I am not sure that is of interest to anybody? I’m a quite reclusive person and can very easily live in solitude for long periods of time, if I can follow my interests or stay in my studio. In general I hope that the current pandemic situation maybe can positively develop local communities and art scenes, in relation to René Kemp saying in a previous interview: ‘Nowadays it almost seems harder to be a local artist than an ‘International Artist’’.
This fall I was planning to go to Brussels for a period of time, for different projects, one being a residency at Boghossian Foundation. All of this is postponed now until the next year. So right now I am thinking about moving into a more isolated setting, I have been dreaming about living more permanently in the mountains for a time, a full year with all the seasons at least.
Interview by Tom Lingnau, August 2020
Are Blytt, born 1981 in Bergen, lives and works in Oslo