REVIEWED: Lars Elling: Samtidig - like i nærheten (Simultaneously and Close)

By Renata Domitran

Lars Elling, Falangist (Phalangist), 2011. Courtesy of Galleri Brandstrup
Painting with a mixed technique of egg tempera and oil, Norwegian artist Lars Elling (1966) uses an unusual combination of contemporary expression with the old masters methods of painting. It is a unique blend that gives an underlying sense of capturing something forgotten. Elling is exhibiting a solo show at Galleri Brandstrup Oslo - which also exhibited his work at The Armory Show in New York earlier this month.

Lars Elling is a painter who challenges viewer perceptions and their ability to comprehend his coded visual messages. A coldness of pastel colours manifests numerous subtle shadows throughout the paintings. The unavoidable elements of this exhibition are gloomy atmospheres and unsettled surroundings featuring faceless characters engaging in what appears to be their own surreal mind projections. The very recognisable narrative of Elling's visual language is people either without faces or faces hidden away and blurred. Appearing to merge into their own internal worlds, these haunting figures define the disturbing nature of the works. It all gives an eerie feeling of the unknown, yet at the same time, the viewer knows something unsettling is present. Elling hides the identities of his subjects behind smudged paintings' surfaces, holding layers of narratives inside his apparent unfinished stories; like novels without endings.

One piece depicts a boy in a red jacket, Falangist (Phalangist) (2011), holding a gun in his hand and pointing at something or somebody the viewer is not in a position to see. The boy has a white undefined face framed by bright orange hair. Is it a spine-tingling image, a nightmare or maybe just an innocent boyish game? Visible in the background are dark smudged colours, dripping down the canvas like the imaginary blood of an unseen victim. The background could be perceived as a storm inside the boy's mind or viewer reactions inside their own heads. It seems that Elling is unwilling to reveal the whole message or the full scenario of this imagined play. He leaves room for the audience to fill in the gaps. All we know for sure is the painting's name, Phalangist. This name can mean a member of a paramilitary organisation, perhaps alluding to a boy soldier and society's responsibility, possibly provoking guilt in the mind of the viewer.  

Lars Elling, Knust Landskap (Destroyed Landscape), 2010. Courtesy of Galleri Brandstrup
In another of Elling's exhibited paintings titled Knust Landskap (Destroyed Landscape) (2010), it seems as if three stories are simultaneously projected onto the canvas. In an almost theatrical setting, a woman's figure lies on the ground with another female sitting on top of her, and a male figure leaning over the lying woman. It is an undefined act that could either depict friendliness or silent violence over the female lying down. Once again, the blurred faces makes it difficult to comprehend the content behind the scene. In the background people casually play golf as smoke appears beneath the mountains - dark clouds above also implying an underlying tension.

Lars Elling's narratives are without a time frame or definition, and rely on individual perceptions. Just like in the theatre where actors play others adding traces of their own selves, Elling's paintings are open to quiet interpretations and assorted endings.  Experiencing his work is like entering a series of strange, sudden and cut short scenes. The theatrical features of Elling's paintings give a very strong omnipresence of ambiguity, leading the viewers into their own psychological mind trap. Scenes evolve and penetrate into each other, reminding us of the transience of time and the unforeseeable future. Elling has captured moments of haziness in the precarious world of the labyrinth of the mind, and with it leaves space for the audience to imagine their own layers of narrative.

·     Lars Elling: Samtidig - like i nærheten  (Simultaneously and Close) Galleri Brandstrup Oslo,  Oslo, Norway 28 Feb – 23  Mar 2013