Maybe in recent times Andreas Andreassen has been garnering more attention as the person behind the artist-run Kunsthalle Elephant in Lillehammer. It’s success has more or less obscured the view on the seriously playful (and also playfully serious) artwork of its initiator. It makes you wonder: how could it be viewed, if not in extension of the activities of this man with as many hats as talents. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s all connected - it really is.
Here, at this point I want to talk of the work not of the art space director, but the artist - the painter, whom I had the pleasure to meet and collaborate with on two occasions. The first was in the context of the final year degree show at the Oslo art academy, the second was a show I initiated about a year later. His current show draws on motifs developed during the time of these projects, but originally stemming from a very own artistic research, undertaken earlier, during his time as an exchange student at the art academy in Düsseldorf, and before.
Not that an individual image has to take very long to produce to be significant. After all, painting is not necessarily meaningful because it is slow a process. Sure, it’s slower than taking a snap with a smartphone, but images have undergone a considerable re-evaluation, particularly in times of an ubiquitous abundance of imagery available online at any time. Today, an image can be created in a snap and shared instantly, and rarely is worth more than a short chuckle.
In comparison the slowness of painting allows for the creation of a different, more complex kind of image. It has layers, not only of meaning, but also of paint. It can be shared only under specific circumstances, in a very specific setting, and it resists any form of too quickly applied interpretation. Again this is a very open description, but in Andreassen’s work his way of working ensures a form of sincerity, when he creates images in developing his very own form of visual poetry. It may be stupid and retinal, as Marcel Duchamp derided painting as art form, but also it’s about playing the game straight. It’s not about irony, winking to the existing order, it’s about shouldering the weight of european culture and its art history. It’s not exactly easy. It’s heavy.
But it’s possible. In his exhibition of current works Andreasse shows - among other things - that the slow process of generating an image from scratch has its own and very special merits. At the center he placed an installation, at first glance at odds with the outset. It consists of what appears to be an unfinished painting having found a second life as a tent, making house for a small sculpture, depicting a strange figure, nearly human in posture, with a head that is half comic book mouse, half Pinocchio. The namesake in Carlo Collodi‘s famous tale is a wooden puppet with a nose that grows with every lie its bearer makes, a mark not only of his reckless behavior and uncontrollable activity, reflected as libidinal quality.
In his tent the little character is maybe more mouse than man, and is seated on the ground, head hanging, facing the floor, pensive, withdrawn, sad.
He reappears in a painting on the wall, this one more drawn than painted in sketched wisps of white strokes, standing under a window, next to a small pyramid which sits on a table, in „Mouse Mourning Syndrome“ (2015). Miraculously, as if competing with the dynamic paint strokes, there is also an undercurrent of a rhombic pattern, more a shadow than a veil, not really absent, but not very present either, allowing for projection, adding an additional radiance of an obscure order.
But order is a tricky subject, as the scale of the individual entities float in between painting and installation, the pyramid grows to a full blown tent and encapsulates the small figure. In place of the painting the installation features a screen sitting opposite of the mouse, like a TV set in a living room, framed in a gilded, opulent flea-market monster. It plays a loop of a video animation of several minutes, created in collaboration with Danish artist Sophie Erlund on occasion of the exhibition Dating Service at Kunsthalle Autocenter in Berlin (2014). If the animation has protagonists of its own, they are the continuously moving flat forms of different color, which look familiar from the canvasses on the walls in the gallery. If the installation plays the role of the finished painting less as an endless reservoir of possibilities but as a kind of feedback loop of decisions that shape the final work, the animation gives a sense of perspective and potential.
The flat forms fly around and accumulate on the pictorial plane and take on a life of their own, assuming varying positions, changing colors, sizes, forms, leaving, coming back and reverting to previous positions. It is reductive but decidedly candid depiction of the painting process as a one of composition, involving primarily forms and colors, and the alchemy of materials, subjective views or proportions taking second space. The result is ambiguous, hovering in between the supposed finitude of a masterpiece, as the frame seems to suggest, and the open end of any creative endeavour, emphasizing playfulness over historical weight or ballast.
Still, in relation to this aspect of play, it is important to recognize the rules and conventions of the game. Like the production of any art work, painting follows a very specific often ritualistic choreography, that fetishizes the absence of rules, while adhering to a very strict set of formal boundaries, as in the fetishized white space on the rectangle of the canvas, the area where anything is possible (or - anything that will stick to it). Within this space painting is a play in itself, it opens up to a flirt with infinity and the potential of an individual expression and experience, of senses and mind, and in relation to the extraordinary and the normal, normative, normed. If this transforms into an immediate sensation, it allows for the singular, exquisite viewing experience. The viewer requires the promise of artistic sincerity to risk to invest his or her interest - and the art needs to „talk“. In this play of lure, of bait, of the possibility of a swindle, all art is romantic, suggesting the starting point of a journey well into uncertainty, carrying the subject beyond the objects surrounding it, into a space between the present and the future, of becoming. Painting goes beyond history - but departs from within it. If this installation could be regarded as portraying the drama of the creation of a painting, it forms a humorist, slightly self deprecating prologue, but also a very self-conscious introduction into the recent paintings, their narrative - and their big drama.
Having introduced his alter ego, the sad and deceiving mouse, here we get to see and to know the artist‘s work ethics. From now on, it‘s serious - but it still looks playful, and, on first glance, simple. Both in composition as well as in subject matter. references to buildings, a castle, a well, a column etc., are all articulated in clearly defined planes of color. Every element clearly displaying the traces of work having gone into creating it, not as signifiers of achieved perfection, but of time spent, and thought invested in frequent changes, in scratches, in scraping off of paint, in the pressure of the artist‘s hand and his tools.
Andreasen’s is not aesthetic of the slick, or the impeccable, but that of a story well told.Consciously not perfect, with signs not of the genius’ sleight of hand, but of wavering doubts, of time spent with constructing a story, creating problems, new problems, changing, rearranging, and finally deciding what is to remain visible. It could be regarded as an exercise in keeping what is simple, stupid, even ugly or negative, instead of succumbing to the urge of applying a kind of visually or conceptually cosmetic work-over. Because it is precisely in what makes these paintings „ugly“ that their inner ratio is revealed, the artist’s interest to resist the dialectics of (self-)enhancement and (self-) optimization: keep it real.
So: no nose job for Mouse-Pinocchio. Maybe in the acknowledgement of human fallacy there’s a kind of „god‘s dead“ moment, and redemption is on offer only as fiction - a distant castle of childlike rendering. This is simply stating the obvious, the tried and tested. But what makes Andreassen’s paintings special could be found in his stubborn insistence on a near erotic pleasure of potentiality, against a backdrop of continuous inconsistency. Or, as video artist Nam June Paik famously put it: "when too perfect lieber gott böse." (When too perfect dear lord angry.)
Anyone could feel sympathy for the poor devil. Nobody is more glamorous, than that self-important fuck (sorry, Satanists). The real challenge is to accept yourself as mouse-like, to allow for empathy with the sad little you in yourself. The marks of the paintings lie at odds with consumer culture and its inherent narcissism, seeking out flattering reflections of the viewer’s own likeness in any surface, the self-recognition in the virgin product, rather it’s about the human urge to identify with the imperfect, also, but not only in self-recognition. What is a story, but an elaborate lie? A con game? Embrace your inner Pinocchio, watch your nose grow, and pretend it‘s your libido. Maybe it works. Wave a flag. Make a painting. See a painting. Blink. See another painting. You’re not perfect. But you’re right there.