The benefits of bankruptcy

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 the decision to work with art is 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.

I would say that all of my paintings 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 on 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: 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, physical and intellectual. 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. While lately the pure abstract has been growing on me again, as a room without words, I also always try to accept and integrate certain decorative aspects of painting as part of the work.

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: I admire photographers who observe and wait for the moment. I like the photo to work when taken in a single shot, or not to work and then be trashed. Maybe it is like with a canvas? I very seldom crop or anything like that. Either it works or not.

Photography, both found material and my own, has been a part of my paintings for some time now, as paper collages, printed with silk screen or painted on the canvas. I was accepted into 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 in an exhibition.

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 refer to books 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. If printed matter is turned into digital matter only, then something is lost.

Being, 100 pages, Offset, 26 x 19,5 cm, Are Blytt / Galleri K, 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 just enjoy 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 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. And of course, 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 recent 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: I am not sure how this will positively influence the art world at all, as it seems like a bankruptcy on so many levels, and 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 about to shape itself, 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.

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 imagining living more permanently in the mountains for a time, a full year with all the seasons at least.


Interview by Tom Lingnau, August 2020, edited / abridged version November 2023


Are Blytt, born 1981 in Bergen, lives and works in Oslo