No. 6


Håkan Sandell 

Translated from the Swedish by Ardis Grosjean 


The Swedish artist, Roj Friberg (born in 1934), has recently exhibited a large number of paintings in the picturesque gallery spaces situated within the former sawmill of Soli Brug, near Oslo. 


      The paintings shown were later works, executed in a distinctive technique using wax-based colours, where emergent motifs are at times scraped into existence.  In no less than three separate buildings one could see the staying-power of Friberg’s motifs of choice: marine views, the facades of Central European houses untouched by EU restoration projects, interiors of old manor houses, and portraits of rulers and of those who are ruled.  And all of this is done in a technique that approaches perfection.  Friberg’s buildings display his illusionistic mastery.  His waves have the elegance of classic Chinese brushwork.  Nevertheless, having said this, we have hardly said anything at all.

     To use a literary term, Friberg is more a “magic realist” than a commentator on daily life.  His gaze goes inward, abandoning itself to its own flow.  His pictures have something that is trancelike and intensified, while they are at the same time endowed with tautness through his mastery of the craft.  Even though Roj Friberg’s talent tends by nature toward draughtsmanship, it is nevertheless fitting to compare him to the mature Goya — where that which appears clear and easy has behind it a whole life of the painter’s toil.  And, as in Goya, the faces and the scenes seem to have emerged straight from the darkness, the darkness found in the inner vision.

     On the day of the opening I got a chance to sit down with the artist for a few minutes of conversation.  We sat by the old mill pond, surrounded by large dragonflies such as I had only seen in Kurosawa’s last film, Dreams.  The painter confirmed one of my impressions from his paintings: as he works he is indeed conscious of an approaching ecological catastrophe — of a poisoning that not only reaches down to the roots of trees, but that enters into our houses and our dreams.  To do harm to the foundation of one’s being is to perpetrate a moral harm that etches its way not only into public discourse but into language itself.  And, one might add here, into his pictorial world of decaying salons, crackling facades and eroding statues.  It is as though time itself is corroding the motifs in his paintings, time that is running out.

     Indeed, Roj Friberg would be less true as an artist were it not that he confesses of his own accord that he does not fully know what he is doing.  “It’s something you can’t put into words,” he tells me.  Art is not born of an environmental-political need, but comes from a question about ourselves to ourselves.  He explains that he enters into creativity “to find intoxication”.  True creativity involves letting go of self-control.  The creative process of painting, he says with an amused smile, is “like slow love-making”.  Yet art’s task is spiritual.

     Anyone wishing to do so can of course write off Friberg as a romanticist, but if we go back to Chauvet and Lascaux, we find that it is Friberg who has the millennia on his side.   As for me, I left the show not only glad to have seen such powerful art, but also having a newly acquired sense of peace: the creative impulse in European pictorial art is by no means done for.  There is still life in the corpse.  There may be rot at the root of the tree, but the tree is still green and its branches are budding.




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