Lotte Sandberg

Interview with Torsten Andersson

Ulrika Levén (ed.): Carnegie Art Award 1998, Stockholm/Värnamo, 1998

Torsten Andersson resides in Skåne, between trees that might have been in a painting by Carl Fredrik Hill and beneath a sky with cloud formations that might have been signed Prince Eugen. Andersson, however, makes it clear that he is to be found on this side of the monochrome painting.

Lotte Sandberg: What do you mean when you say that you place yourself on this side of the monochrome?

Torsten Andersson: The 60’s brought with them an insight linked to the end of painting. It became impossible to paint, Yves Klein represented the final stroke. I began to make minimalist sculpture – boxes. After several years, I found that I could paint portraits of these boxes. In this way I was able to take up painting again without being reactionary or traditional. Through these portraits, where I place the motive in the middle of a white surface, I want to negate modernism’s, and primarily Cubism’s, arranging of events over the entire surface.

LS: How does the artistic process develop?

TA: I draw for a long time, joining together small forms. Just as mathematicians examine chance, I am interested in various constellations, continually surprised by new forms and relationships. I always use pure colours because I consider myself more of a sculptor than a painter.

LS: You once described yourself as a twenty-year old, that you were obsessed with nature and symbolist art – what are you obsessed with today at seventy-two?

TA: Language. I work with the remains of the monochrome painting and will continue to do so. Many artists strive not to repeat themselves, while I strive to repeat myself.

LS: Where is painting headed now?

TA: We are in a new epoch. It has lasted nearly thirty years, but we still don’t know what it is about. Yves Klein flew, now we’re about to land. I was unable to relate to 70s realism or the expressionism of the 80s. Something of what is new today may be seen in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, where the architect has worked with an incredible silhouette and managed to unite this with a practical purpose. This is new and perhaps important to painting. On a couple of occasions, I have rendered a maple tree outside my studio. I have gathered the form in the centre, focused on the silhouette, and created a unity between contour and volume, exterior and interior. This breaks with modernism. This is new.

Fall 1998

Lars O Ericsson

The Gallery: Torsten Andersson

Dagens Nyheter, 31.1.1999, also in Torsten Andersson, Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings Årsbok, SAK, Värnamo, 2002)

Torsten Andersson often says that what is most important is something very small. Though this may seem unassuming at first, it is actually quite the opposite. What Torsten Andersson in fact is stressing here is that what is essential in his painting is something barely discernible to those who focus upon such things as motif, psychology or colouristic finesse – which is just what most art viewers traditionally do.
The important issue for Torsten Andersson, however, is not what a painting represents, but how it represents. He sees little value in self-centred, inward delving. He regards this mostly as wishy-washy “ego-drivel”. For decades he has stubbornly resisted the temptation to seduce the viewer with line or colour. So, what is left? What actually constitutes the essential?
In the discussion of the “very small” lies an urgent demand to sharpen one’s gaze, and direct it towards a specific niche or aspect, namely the language of painting (or painting as a language). But what does this language do? According to Torsten Andersson, the central task of this language is to articulate space on a surface. If we glance back to the Renaissance, we see that painters have followed quite a number of paths leading in this direction ever since. These paths in turn form various “families” of depiction. Realism is one such family, expressionism another, the via negativa of abstraction is a third family, and so on.
Around 1960, many saw painting as a spent form of expression. The linguistic possibilities seemed exhausted. Monochrome painting – the foremost contemporary emblem of the time – appeared to be the terminal point of a more than five hundred year old historical tradition. Consequently, many artists chose to give up painting for other forms of expression – minimalist sculpture, object art, happenings or video.
Torsten Andersson was an exception however. Contrary to the spirit of the times, he wanted to “reconquer easel painting”.
In Germany, Joseph Beuys forbade his students Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter to paint, resulting in well-known painterly consequences. In the early 1960s, without any direct contact with either Polke or Richter, albeit in the same “obstinate” spirit, Torsten Andersson initiated his own persistent struggle attempting to forge new linguistic paths for painting. Like a kind of explorer he has tried to investigate these yet unused linguistic possibilities. Following well-trodden paths of depiction has never interested him. That would, according to him, only lead to a series of borrowings and retakes.
Between 1961 and 1966, Torsten Andersson painted several epoch making paintings, among others, The Source II (1962), The Red Thread (The Source) 1966, and The Clouds Between Us (1966). Here he juxtaposes, collides, and crossbreeds different forms of imagery and levels of reality. Like a painterly “gene manipulator” he conjures up hitherto unknown types of languages, and notions such as realism and abstraction, and sculpture and painting, which are turned inside out. The result is something as rare as a completely new type of painted image, characterised by a hybrid-like syntax. It is hardly surprising that it would take twenty years before the art world would catch up with him. Today, the term “combined forms” is used frequently in the prose of art criticism.
In The Clouds Between Us a realistic language is used to depict an abstract object. A large sculptural T-shape (T as in token? T as in Torsten?) has been formed with the help of highlights and projected shadows. Inversely, a small, flat, abstract T-shape positioned further inside the imaginary space of the painted surface functions in a depictive way in relation to the large abstract, yet realistically rendered “sculpture”. With a serious smile Torsten Andersson talks of “painter sculptures” and “abstract sculptures and their realistic portraits”. With The Clouds Between Us, he presented a language that he consistently and forcefully continued to develop in his works of the 1980s and 90s.
This is admittedly no immediately accessible painting. It craves a viewer who is well acquainted with art history, especially that of the 1900s. Torsten Andersson already has a given place there. He has shown that “something very small” can at times be impressively large in the force of its specific gravity. Moreover, his determined struggle for language has opened countless doors for other artists.

Magnus Bons


Torsten Andersson, Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings Årsbok, SAK, Värnamo, 2002

The first time I saw Torsten Andersson’s paintings was at his retrospective exhibition at Moderna Museet in 1986. It was a dizzying encounter for me. I could not make sense of what I saw. I had never seen anything like it. Yet I remember how strongly affected I was by what I interpreted as the artist’s courage. Daring to leave the painting in an apparently unfinished state, and sloppily painted at that. The refined rawness and singular poetic light of the images roused a determination on my part to understand them. Approximately ten years later, I presented an essay in art history on Torsten Andersson’s work from the 1960s. While working on the essay, I wrote to him hoping to get some answers to some of my questions. He promptly replied. A selection of these questions and answers were presented on Torsten Andersson’s own initiative in a catalogue of his paintings published by Lars Bohman Gallery in 1998. Our correspondence intensified after this, and ultimately led to the interview in this book. Through studies of art and artists’ texts in general, along with Torsten Andersson’s paintings and statements in particular, my interpretation of his work has successively developed. To a certain extent, his paintings nevertheless retain an unfathomable character. I think this seems fitting somehow. There is one aspect of his paintings that lies beyond the verbal. An aspect that is experienced and processed outside of language, directly with our senses. Something akin to Gunnar Ekelöf’s “something else”, wherein the paintings speak to us in their own language.
Torsten Andersson sees himself as painting sculptures. He places them in a room, and lets them be surrounded by white space. The paintings do not, however, depict real sculptures. Outside the image, the sculptures exist solely in the mind of the artist as imagined forms, and as reflections in the eyes of the viewer, with the exception of the period in the early 60s, when he in fact constructed real sculptures. Torsten Andersson utilises painting’s capacity for creating an illusion of reality; a reality that exists only in the image.
Opposing concepts such as painting – sculpture, surface – space, imaginary – real, figurative – abstract are Torsten Andersson’s painterly instruments. He explores and questions conventions of imagery in order to find a possible path for painting. His unique contribution is the way in which he regroups and turns notions inside out, resulting in images that are so self-evident that it is pointless to ask what they depict. Torsten Andersson’s paintings are neither abstract nor figurative, but in fact both at the same time. His powerful and expressionistic manner of painting is not about personal expression, but rather about using a convention, a conscious borrowing of style in an attempt to avoid having his own personal identity be confused with his art.
Lars Norén recently described his rendition of Anton Chekhov’s play The Sea Gull in the following manner: “It is primarily about having a mission in life, those who possess the strength to acquire a mission in life.” Already during our first meeting I realised Torsten Andersson possesses this strength. One look at his work is enough to understand that painting is his mission in life. Torsten Andersson has since the mid 1960s insistently and with great sincerity varied his seemingly ascetic theme; a theme that encompasses an existential vulnerability. He has consistently remained true to his vision of a new kind of painting. He sees every new picture as though it was his first. For this reason one should not view his portrayed sculptures as repetitions. Instead, one should see them for what they are – attempts at achieving the ultimate image.

Lars Nittve

An Aurora Borealis. A Divine Gift

Torsten Andersson, Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings Årsbok, SAK, Värnamo, 2002

This is not jazz. This might sound obvious, but I repeat, this is not jazz, this is painting. Painting that in fact refuses to become jazz. It is inexorable, unbending, die hard professional, and divinely gifted. Here we find no medleys of rehashed notions, no obligatory solos, no predictable improvisations, no ideas of immediacy or excessive emotion. No high brow entertainment.
This is simply painting. Painting that goes straight for the solar plexus – or perhaps, better, more wonderfully, and much more astoundingly – startles us with the soft and complete strength of an aurora borealis. A divine gift.
Just like jazz, some might say, and rightly so, to a point. Not at all, I would counter, at the risk of being mistaken, although hopefully in a meaningful way.
All this talk of jazz and painting has to do with an evening in Helsinki a year or so ago. I was talking to an American critic, a critic who bears a genuine love for painting. He suddenly exclaimed: “Have you ever thought of how painting has become a kind of visual jazz, a kind of extremely sophisticated entertainment at times?” We ended up discussing jazz and its development through the 1900s from popular culture to the avant-garde and back again. We never finally determined where painting would fit into this, but the statement etched itself in my memory. In any case, I think I understood what he meant.
Painting is in crisis, but not in the way one often thinks by reading magazines and newspapers. It is not dying at all; on the contrary, it is thriving – perhaps even all too well. Perhaps what he intended to say was that in this era of accelerating visuality, where we have become ever more adept consumers of images, painting is something we seek out for heightened visual pleasure, increased stimulation, a little more friction, or rather frisson. Could this explain why an ever increasing number of my friends in London have started tuning in to the radio station Jazz FM on their car stereos? Exchanging pop, rock, soul, R&B etc., for something more complex, with more variation, and with formulae that are less repetitive in character, for something subtle, deft, and “exciting”. For something wonderful and enjoyable that has, however, through its own self-perception, its history and its notions and conventions relating to improvisation, tradition, and emotion, ultimately become conservative. Jazz has thus abandoned its position as an avant-garde form of expression and become entertainment clad in the sophisticated garb of culture. Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you.
I think I understood what the critic meant, but must also emphasise that all painting is not jazz, and that some forms of jazz even succeed in the feat of not being jazz at all. And as I said, and said explicitly, Torsten Andersson’s painting in particular is not jazz, but art, in a somewhat deeper, more intense sense.
His paintings meet our gaze, directly, intensely, and proudly unlike anything else. But the directness lies in their appearance, or our view of it, and definitely not in their origin. Even at an early stage, Torsten Andersson was well aware of the curse of painting – that as a painter one is destined to trudge about in everything that has already been done before. In old languages, borrowed languages, languages one can and perhaps even must embrace at some point, only to be denied at a later stage, or to use Andersson’s own words, “negated”.
When one traces Torsten Andersson’s work back through his life and ponders the important milestones – the large and somewhat heroic retrospective exhibition at Moderna Museet in 1986; the first paintings after his long and painful hiatus from painting between 1966 and 1972; and above all, the process of formulating his own language during the 60s, starting with The Sea Gull, 1961, via The Source, 1962, up to the key work The Clouds Between Us from 1966 – the image of a struggle appears, a kind of life and death struggle geared to achieving a personal language.
Had he heard the seriousness and pragmatism in his voice, void of any romantic dramaturgy, I believe that Torsten Andersson would agree with Walter De Maria when he stated that, “Art is a matter of life and death”. Although their art is seemingly very different, they are kindred spirits.
One of the most obvious things that can be said of Torsten Andersson’s painting of the past few decades is that it does not resemble anything else. This cannot honestly be said of much painting nowadays. Most of it is… well, jazz. To attain this he has assumed and negated stance upon stance, artist upon artist. This he has done in a systematic fashion for the most part, but sometimes I think in a state of anger and frustration as well, since the nature of the artistic process is all too unpredictable to offer respite to calm a systematist. He has repeatedly “examined art”, understood, and discarded, thereby ultimately finding a space, a place, a language he could call his own. In theory, he had already achieved this in 1966 with The Clouds Between Us, a “realistic portrait of an abstract sculpture”, a painting that embodies the logical consequence of a logical consequence, so to speak.
The first stop on this arduous journey is hence The Sea Gull, where a bird shape has been cut out of the canvas and sewn back on again – parenthetically speaking a deconstruction avant la lettre in the best Derridian tradition. Neither a negation nor a confirmation, but a visualisation of a conflict between two types of realism. On the one hand traditional depiction, the illusionism of representation, and on the other, the type of realism where the painting itself becomes an unmistakably real object. Then follow The Source I and II, where both approaches coexist side by side, rather than in an overlapping manner. In its upper section, the palette knife has conjured up the image of wild, lush vegetation with frantic, supple brutality, while the lower section is comprised of a simple black board. A board is a board is a board – but also the black surface of the water of the source… After that his choices are few. The next step must be a kind of object-like painting; a painting that is a sculpture and still is not, but something in between. During the first half of the 1960s – while the Minimalists in the U.S.A., with Donald Judd at the forefront, were abandoning painting for a kind of artwork which is neither, not sculpture or painting, but rather “specific objects”, as Judd called them – Torsten Andersson constructs several such objects. Most of them have long since been reduced to kindling wood in the artist’s merciless sorting sessions, but it is nevertheless amazing to see the similarities between the artistic conclusions that Donald Judd and Torsten Andersson draw at exactly the same time, with their simple, painted box-shapes. In the next phase however, Andersson draws completely different conclusions than Judd does from the sculpture paintings they had independently created. Andersson focuses on the painterly situation, seeking out new pathways for the tradition and practice he has so unconditionally loved since childhood. Instead of studying new spatial composition templates inspired by the logic of mass production – Judd’s distinguishing mark becomes the empty box, or boxes, lined up in a non-hierarchical fashion according to the principle “one thing after the other” – Andersson abandons the three-dimensional constructions and starts painting portraits of the abstract sculptures instead. The earliest paintings I have seen of this kind are dated 1964, but I believe, as I mentioned earlier, that it was not until a couple of years later, with The Clouds Between Us – a portrait with reflected highlights, deep shadows, and everything that realistic portraiture requires – and The Red Thread (The Source) from the same year, that he becomes fully aware of what he has done. With this portrait of an “imaginary closed object in an imaginary closed room”, he realises that he has reached a place where no one else has been before. Through a relentless “process of negation” he has found what he refers to as his “personal language”.
From this point on, his painting becomes something else. The risk of improvising around someone else’s theme, and discovering that one has spent the better part of a year creating a medley based upon already existing languages is eliminated.
If what Torsten Andersson calls his “struggle for language” is thereby concluded, it does not mean that he has reached his destination. On the contrary, he also seeks to fortify, almost literally defend his language. He wants to anchor it, and stabilise it to the point where it can endure anything – the scepticism of the surrounding world, its temptation to copy, and not the least, all the uses that he himself could possibly imagine.
One aspect he examines is the cultural habitat, or even the geographical habitat of his language. His perspective upon the whole process of negation and his entire artistic project is international in character. When he “examines art”, it is the art of the world that is studied, and it is in relation to this that he achieves a conceptual clarity in his own language. But when it comes to firmly establishing his own principle however, he draws his inspiration from something not only Swedish, but something particular to southern Sweden and even regions more local in character; the areas in the vicinity of his childhood village of Benarp, not far from Hörby.
“Images from Frosta County” was his name for the important exhibition at Galerie Burén in Stockholm, were he showed among other things, the two Source paintings. And the works that Torsten Andersson describes as his “depictions of popular tales” – featuring the Battahus blacksmith, Pernilla the orphan girl, and Victoria Benedictsson – are also images that are firmly rooted in the Hörby region. One would certainly like to think that both The Birch, and The Maple literally have their roots in Benarp as well, despite the fact that on their way to becoming paintings they have become imaginary abstract sculptures, and have at some point been formally inspired by stylistic elements of both Celtic and Viking art. The project is thus both uninhibitedly international – Torsten Andersson’s ambition is to contribute to art history – and at the same time just as uninhibitedly provincial, albeit in the best sense of the word. Both global and local; in other words, Glocal.
These depictions of popular tales were also a part of a slightly different strategy to consolidate the language – an attempt to reinforce it with something more personal and existentially biting. The Blacksmith, 1983, is about the Battahus blacksmith who took the lone, dying calf of a poor old woman to church and gave it Holy Communion, and had to pay subsequently for this with his life. Was it possible to tell such stories with this language – while not abandoning the basic thought that there is a third path, a language that is both doubly imaginary as well as doubly realistic – and therefore neither the one nor the other?
The depiction of popular tales was one method, another was a series of works under the heading The Reproduction Triptych from the mid-1980s, the themes of which touched upon the capacity of art to transcend materiality and perhaps our own and every other living being’s desire to transcend their given limits. But not even an eternal, transcendental theme such as this is allowed to become elevated or pretentious high-brow culture. Here the auxiliary engines in the narrative of the transcendence of one’s own prerequisites are the titles, and they speak for themselves: The Frog’s Phallus, The Female Reptile’s Nipple, and The Virgin Mary’s Stomach. The impossible is possible. This is something that life, at least in its most intensive form – art – can show us at best. A kind of divine gift.
The depictions of popular tales and The Reproduction Triptych – together with a few other painting from the 1980s of what one could perhaps call bio-mythological structures – contributed to further consolidating Torsten Andersson’s personal language, though it was not for the purpose of telling these stories that he had struggled to acquire this language. They touched him deeply, scared him even, but this was not where the core of his art lay. In the mid 1990s he wrote, “The struggle for language is, and has always been, the sole content that has helped me to live”. At that point he had returned to painting imaginary statues and sculptures. Sculptures that, although they were imaginary, seemed to be made of plywood, just as the objects of the 1960s were. Quite squarish and angular, but at the same time spatially complex. Complex, yes, but also visually cheeky, with a youthful, impatient punch, indicating that the artist is on to something, that a new phase has begun. The chase is on.
At the same time, when one is now a viewer who does not stand and grope with his own feelings when faced with the literally inexorable stories hidden within the earlier paintings, another question becomes all the more persistent and bothersome: What is it about them that affects us so intensely? Why are we affected by their soft, yet total and apparently inexplicable power – this aurora borealis?
Perhaps it is because only the best are allowed to survive. It sounds dreadful – and it is. Out of one hundred working sketches, ninety are destroyed. The surviving ten drawings lead to one hundred new ones, of which ninety are destroyed, leaving twenty. Of these twenty, sixteen are destroyed. Four drawings remain. These drawings then continue in the work process – developing into paintings, though with no guarantee of survival.
Perhaps, and most probably, it is the best that survive. But the process has just as much to do with something else; with making the work real, with sharpening the senses, and getting focused. Creating a painting, especially for an artist who has worked consciously and professionally for over fifty years, is quite easy. Destroying that which one has created, however, and choosing what has to be thrown into the backyard fire, and what is allowed to come to life upon meeting the gaze of a viewer is difficult. Unfathomably difficult. Strange as it may seem, this is where painting becomes serious; and this is precisely what Torsten Andersson’s painting is – not jazz.
Thus, the seriousness, and the inexorable aspects of the process are extremely important. In this relentless process, however, the decisions are also made that are crucial for what we are allowed to see. Here the imaginary sculptures of plywood (or whatever other materials are used) are constructed on paper, and subsequently transformed into paintings. They are constructed – complex, self-evident and astoundingly useless; at times precariously top-heavy, askew, and in some way ill at ease with themselves and their both massive and hollow bodies. They are constructed and drawn, in an obstinate isometric perspective, in the imaginary space of the drawing – and if their survival instinct proves to be strong enough, in the imaginary space of a painting as well.
Perhaps the placement of the forms is somehow fundamental – actually the key to their power? During the 1980s and 1990s the forms rest – almost – firmly on their imaginary foundations, placed at the lower edge of the canvas, and surrounded by space. At times they are sliding, but in those cases the form itself is less defined, more shifting in character. The latest paintings, including the portraits of the brown “wooden constructions”, as well as the more recent, softer, patterned “cloth clad” sculptures are different. The forms have been seemingly pressed into the pictorial space with absolute decisiveness and confidence, resulting in a peculiar tension. It actually should not have come as a surprise to me when Torsten Andersson recently mentioned Olle Bærtling as an artist he respected. Both of them have extremely active relationships to the pictorial space, albeit in completely different ways. In Bærtling’s case, liberated and hyper-energetic – in Andersson’s more recent paintings squeezed, with resistance, as though he and the forms themselves refuse to accept what is offered. At the same time one knows that they have been placed where they are with diabolical precision. Strange, exciting, and insistently fascinating!
In the latest paintings of “cloth sculptures” we are faced with a visual intensity the likes of which I have rarely encountered. Packed into their imaginary spaces, the seemingly simple, but spatially complex forms balance and writhe in a state of paradoxical, active rest. In some strange way they seem discontented with what three-dimensionality and perspective have to offer, yet at the same time they possess the unquestionable presence that constitutes Andersson’s painterly signature. The striped and polka-dotted patterns of the cloth against a white background both complicate and unify the forms, while they themselves become a wonderful arena for this extraordinary type of painting that is seldom seen. By painting, I mean the traces of the movement of the brush and palette knife across the canvas; the traces of the physical act of applying paint on the canvas. Quite simply, the traces that allow us to see the forms we see, and in addition, to see more than the forms we see.
Torsten Andersson never admits to being interested in the singular act of painting, the handwriting of the brush and palette knife, or painterly beauty of any kind for that matter. The way in which he speaks of painting gives the impression that he “paints” the paintings almost like a house painter, and corrects his drawing by rubbing off that which does not work in a spatial sense, but that he never apportions the painting, the surfaces, the lines, or even the colour with any intrinsic value. I can understand his defensive stance. He began his struggle to find a language he could call his own in a time when the interest in aesthetic painting and beautiful colours had reached almost pornographic proportions. Ironically, he was probably more talented than most with regard to such things.
Be this as it may, I take the liberty of stating the following: His paintings may be just “simply painted”, but it is nevertheless a fact that no one paints like Torsten Andersson. So rough, decisive, and void of any flirtation whatsoever. So ineffably beautiful. But once again: without the feeling of having a space of his own, a given place in art history, and the negation of the struggle for a language, this would not have been possible. Without the relentless sorting out, this would not have been possible. Without the labour of finding the shape that was as self-evident as it was awkward and finding a conceivable and equally inconceivable space for it, none of this would have been possible. A struggle spanning more than fifty years has made all this possible and provided us with paintings yielding the necessity and irrefutability that only great art possesses. It bears down on us with the soft and total power of an aurora borealis. A divine gift.

Torsten Andersson

I call these seven phases The Frieze of Identity

Torsten Andersson, Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings Årsbok, SAK, Värnamo, 2002

  • 1. In the early 1960s I established my language.
    The Gull 1961, The Source 1962, The Cage 1963, The Main Thread 1965,
    and The Clouds Between Us 1966. Here I used the term
    struggle for language.
  • 2. During the 1970s I consolidated this language, and securely
    anchored it to both my workmanship and my person. I coined
    the term struggle for identity.
  • 3. During the early 1980s I tested the language. I planted my
    forms of the early 70s on the grounds surrounding my studio.
    I compiled the Reproduction Triptych and the Poetry
    . I then, in turn, placed parts of the Reproduction
    out on the grounds.
  • 4. In the mid 1980s I tightened the form. In 1986 I exhibited
    furniture-like sculptures at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
    Portal with Tail, The Moon with Horse Hooves, Portico
    with Wings
    . This tightening of form continued during the 80s
    up to the sculptures of Mercury, Saturn and Earth.
  • 5. In the early 1990s I expanded my use of language. I painted
    portraits of paintings leaning against black pedestals.
    I also painted portraits of pedestals equipped with metal fittings
    or draped with flowery cloth where the flowers float off the
    cloth in a hallucinatory manner.
  • 6. In the last years of the 1990s I once again tightened the form.
    I painted portraits of sculptures made of wooden panels.
  • 7. During the first years of the new century I have painted
    portraits of sculptures made of cloth where the pattern is freed
    from the cloth and transformed into interpretive constructions.

Magnus Bons

Magnus Bons in conversation with Torsten Andersson, at the artist’s home in Benarp/Hörby

Torsten Andersson, Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings Årsbok, SAK, Värnamo, 2002

Magnus Bons: When did you become aware of the existence of art?
Torsten Andersson: While working as an errand boy at the age of fifteen in Hörby, I came across a book by Bruno Liljefors. There he writes about what he calls “protective similarity” – a hare or grouse disappearing into the surroundings, into the surface. Just as in my painting The Gull much later. I liked that a lot. I painted a few Liljefors paraphrases, and biked around trying to sell them for a few crowns apiece.
Who supplied you with paint?
At school I was considered good at painting. At that time, despite meagre resources, my mother once bought me some canvas and student paints as a Christmas present. I still remember the smell of the canvas, real artist’s canvas. I was fourteen at the time. On entering art school in Skåne two or three years later, I was hooked. There was simply no alternative.
Why did the image become so important to you? Where did the interest stem from?
I remember walking with my father on the dirt road right outside, one of the few memories I have of him. I was at the age my son is now – thirteen. My father saw some clay by the side of the road, picked it up, and said: “This is what they make sculptures out of. I have seen Carl Milles’ fountain in Halmstad”. He was instinctively drawn in that direction. In that sense l suppose I have inherited my interest from my father, but I am just speculating. Something like that can then be combined with other traits, like those I got from my mother; stubbornness and a positive outlook. Development was typical of my mother, but not my father.
You have also studied in Copenhagen, haven’t you?
After art school in Skåne, I started at The Otte Sköld School of Art in Stockholm and continued my studies at The Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm. It was impossible for me to work there, however, so I moved to Copenhagen. I was a complete outsider there too, so I moved back to Stockholm. While sitting on the front steps of the Academy one day, Ragnar Sandberg approached me. Mentally he has meant a lot to me. He was a warm and positive person, though with very strong likes and dislikes. He considered Munch worthless for example, whereas Karsten, Munch’s rival in Norway, was good. This affected me in a positive direction. Like an exercise in prioritising, in believing in something.
In your paintings one can see traces of a struggle with the image, and a continuous testing of the imagery. This indicates an obsession with the image and painting. What does this consist of?
As a painter I enjoy trying to intervene in an art historical process so that I can transform and renew the imagery and the tradition. In that situation I see myself in a phase immediately prior to the answer-book stage, a phase preceding the formulated and accepted. Even the most radical and progressive artists eventually become accepted. As soon as this happens they become paradigms for the creative person, and thereby are no longer adequate as role models. In this respect it is not even relevant who the role model is. Whether it is Arp, Paul Cézanne or Karl Isaksson. They are of no use. You are on your own.
Why are they of no use?
They are of no use to the creative person, except as a sounding board. They can however, offer enjoyment. Seeing meaningful art can give you goose bumps. You immediately feel something happening. Your blood pressure rises. The image hits you straight on. You register it quickly and embrace it unconditionally. But I do not need to delve into it, or cultivate it anymore – the way I used to as a twenty year old, when I could stand for hours in front of a painting and work it over, dream and interpret. Nowadays everything is stored.
But the charge of the image is still there?
Exactly. That is what is so amazing about it. It is radioactive!
How do you experience the power of attraction of the image?
I am drawn to images unencumbered by excessive detail, that are complex, and that make a direct impression. I do not deal with the mysterious, but I like images having a mystical quality about them. The artist’s task is to attain a kind of synthesis that can be converted into an act. He starts of course by testing a whole series of theses and antitheses, but only in order to reach a synthesis that can be summarised in one single expression. One makes use of others as a sounding board at this point. It is the positive comparison that I feel is lacking in art criticism. When a critic compares with others it is always done in order to put someone down instead of focusing on that which is original. Van Gogh was an Impressionist, but he also had something that distinguished him from Monet and Sisley. He lay the foundation for Expressionism. Paul Cézanne took another path and lay the foundation for Constructivism via Cubism. I have always felt unfairly treated because people have tried to confine me to that which I have wanted to negate. The method of negation is very important.
What have you wanted to negate?
At first it was Concretism. I did not want to be a Concretist. I did not want to have a guardian. I want to be free. I want to be needed.
Was it a driving force to establish something of your own?
I think one does this automatically. It is quite natural, or as Dan Wolgers once said, “You can go to the nearest gallery to see if what you are working on has already been done”. If it has been done recently then there is no point in me doing it. It is as simple as that. I was so fond of art in my youth and would often paint other artists’ paintings. It was essential for me. But that is not enough to be a pursuit for an artist. One gets confused and realises one has not the slightest idea of what one wants. Then the older one gets, the more one is gradually forced to be conscious of one’s quest. That is how it is for others too. We can study Paul Cézanne’s artistic development and find just that. The same applies to Brancusi and Picasso. The older they get, the more consciously and methodically they work.
How did you become aware in your work?
Not in the sense of being able to predict the next step, but by redoing things and keeping that which has a connection backwards in time. Munch called it The Frieze of Life. Whenever he sold one of the paintings in the series, he immediately made a copy of it. I feel the same way. It has to do with identity and a sense of belonging.
Why is it so important to keep the entire production intact?
Any artist who believes in the classic, modernist struggle for identity, as I do, rejects the market. I often compare my paintings to transplant organs. As if I were to sell my kidneys, heart and spleen. When I hold onto my paintings, I keep my body as well as my language intact.
Is that why you exhibit so seldom?
This also has to do with my view of the art world, which was established already in the early 1950s. Focusing on generations, style, commerce and ranking systems, of the kind you would find in a school of economics, characterised the art world, which thereby chose its own alienation. Partaking in this art world seemed futile and degrading to me. During the past fifteen years the art scene in Sweden has become more favourable for creative enterprise. Much more all-round than it used to be in the 1950s and 60s.
Has nature been important for you? Could one say that early experiences of nature are stored within you in the same way art is?
I like that comparison you made. There are similarities. References to nature appear quite clearly in my paintings from the 1950s. The same applies to some of the early works from the 1970s at the Malmö Museum of Art. Although this has not been my aim, nature has been there inside me.
You mean, as a meaningful experience?
I think so. Such a comparison has a double significance because it places art at a distance in the same way that I think art is distant to me now. I do not need to be influenced – I am Mondrian. I am Arp. I am Brancusi. I am Paul Klee. By experiencing one’s own work one can appreciate the work of others.
How do you regard the fact that your paintings are often interpreted as expressions of deep experiences of nature?
I see that as quite unfair. If that had been my goal, and if I had chosen nature as the focal point of my painting, then it would have been much, much better. The feeling for nature has always been obliterated by my interest in the image as language. I started early at art schools. That is where one learns the craft. But one does not deal with that very much afterwards. Bror Hjort once said: “If you want to do something, you can do it.” Rather you feel torn because you do not know what you should do. That is the real problem.
Is it your obligation as an artist to find out?
It is identical to consciously pursuing what I call a struggle for language. I consider, for example, Kurt Schwitters’ concrete poetry to be a symbol for a phase that precedes styles and “isms”. I despise those who made him into a style and a paradigm. He stutters. It is stuttering quite simply! I would like to read an art review made up of a series of stutters, from the first sentence to the last – anything to be spared those predictable appraisals. Behind each Swedish painting lies a central European original. It is important to study these originals, but seeing what is behind them, and focusing on the driving force that has brought forth their differences – that is caring about the art historical process. The difference is more important than the similarity.
What is the meaning of the difference?
The difference is the conscious, the controllable. The painterly process is in fact controllable. It is a question of handling the material in an intelligent manner. At the same time, painting is also erratic, unpredictable, and unfinished.
Does that explain why unexpected similarities can arise between artists?
Once you identify the difference, the similarity that appears spontaneously can suddenly become interesting. I feel that the similarity between my painting and that of Hill is specifically that sort of surprising similarity. I see the painterly process as an unruly shadow of the art historical process. My view of art history is in essence simple and general. It can be likened to a hub from which spokes emanate like creative antennas. The spokes are private property. Trespassers climb along the spokes, glimmer, and fade away.
How do you react to the fact that critics often emphasise the similarities between your work and that of Hill?
The paintings of mine that might resemble those of Hill are foreign to me now. I have no use for Hill’s drawings from the time of his illness. They are inside me; they have become a part of me.
Are there other works of Hill that mean more to you?
There are of course Hill paintings that have a specific validity for me, but I have not thought much about it. Because of this incessant commitment to continuity in my own work, and the dream of a language I could call my own, I never allowed myself to be inspired by Hill, at least not as an adult.
What then are the aspects of Hill that affected you so?
I bought a book at a junk shop the other day that dealt with paintings by artists from Skåne in Scanian museums from 1800 up to 1940 when the book was written. There were reproductions of each artist in the book. There were examples of Hill’s earlier paintings from his “sane” period. There were about six or eight such paintings in Malmö Museums. It was almost incredible how clearly this man was on another level, a level far above the others. There was one other artist that stood out, and that was Nils Jakob Blommér, who among other things painted Älvdansen, The Fairy Dance. Otherwise Hill was superior in every respect! It is so apparent that it amazes you. There were other painters who had been in Paris around the same time as Hill, but they obviously belonged to a second-rate team, while Hill was playing with the elite. He is undoubtedly a natural talent. I think his paintings are absolutely awe-inspiring.
Does your interest in Munch resemble your interest in Hill?
Not at all. Munch works like a cog in an art historical process, as art does when it is professional. Munch is ever present due to the art historical process, while Hill exists as a wonderful lone jewel that I take out and look at on occasion.
In the early 1960s you were overcome by a strong aversion to painting. Why was this?
Painted images had no place in the work process I was involved with at the time. This process was governed by logical conclusions from my previous works. Breaking with painting was facilitated by the thought of the excessive quantity of painterly painting that the art scene had produced in the 1950s.
You divide your work as an artist into seven phases. Can one describe your work during the first phase in the early 1960s, with the paintings The Gull and The Source, as both a departure from, and a continuation of, what you were working with in the 50s?
That question touches upon the foundation and starting-point of my work as a mature artist. The various painting traditions of the 1950s developed into a kind of wallpaper, emphasising the surface of the painting. Painting resulted in a single coloured surface, a monochrome painting. In my own painting during the 50s there were two opposing tendencies; one striving towards dissolution, and the other towards an articulation of forms. But these two tendencies had, in fact, certain things in common. They were actually two different kinds of realism. The basic conditions for painting are surface and an imaginary sense of depth. It is not surprising that they both contend for space. The more the form itself became a type of imaginary reality, the more the painting assumed a factual realism. The monochrome was seen as an object in its own right. This was inevitable due to Modernism’s awareness of the surface and its revolutionary respect for the material. Paul Klee grounded his canvases himself. Julio Gonzáles forged like a blacksmith.
Why was this, do you think?
Here we witness the final phase of an era. Impressionism lay the groundwork for the era of Modernism via Cubism. Cubism was further developed by Mondrian, and the first monochrome painting by Malevich around 1910, and that is as far as it went at that point. The time was then once again ripe for realism and classicism. The Italian Metaphysical painters were classicists. During the 1940s and 50s abstract art was reintroduced. Yves Klein carried out his monochrome paintings in the last phase of Modernism. All modernist art has come into being through an interaction between realism and abstraction. The realism of the 1970s was predictable. That was why I felt like sabotaging the treadmill of art history.
So with the monochrome, all possibilities in painting had been examined?
Yes, and that is why I am sceptical of monochrome painting today. It is past history to me.
But then in 1961 you painted the white monochrome painting The Gull.
Yes, and in 1962 | painted The Source. I exhibited both of them in 1962. I think the dating of these paintings is important. In The Gull, one can see the two tendencies of the 50s that I just mentioned. Due to the line in the painting both dissolving and taking shape simultaneously, a new clarity and a new type of figuration arose. I would utilise this at a later stage without ending up in some form of obsolete realism. I chose a third path. I used the language of realism but depicted abstract forms.
You cut out the shape of the gull from the canvas and sewed it back on again. What made you decide to do that?
The same week I sewed The Gull | painted an imaginary three-dimensional version of the same form. My intention with sewing The Gull was to eradicate and immaterialise the painted version. There is something about The Gull and the interpretation of it that boosts my self-confidence and pleases me. I think it has to do with it being a logical consequence of my painting in the 1950s. I came to my own conclusions based upon my own view of art. I did not embrace a style. In fact, The Gull was made before I was aware of who Yves Klein was, and before I knew about monochrome painting. I am being honest here.
With The Source you go a step further when you divide the piece into two parts; a painting and a black wooden panel.
The two parts reflect the relationship between the imaginary and the concrete, between the representational and the real. The upper painting is imaginary, illusory. The lower wooden panel is a monochrome, an object. I was careful to keep the parts separate so as to avoid making an assemblage.
Why did you feel that these conclusions were so important to you?
Although it was difficult for me to read French and English, I still felt the need to read foreign texts. I struggled through them and was forced to make some kind of home-made interpretations. For example the French term l’espace – space – was a word I did not understand despite its frequent appearance in Concretist writings. For me, the term meant Concretism – concrete, object in Swedish. This was six or seven years before The Gull. I did not comprehend what I read because I simply could not. I never got much from Swedish texts. The only Swedish text that seemed important was Göran Printz Påhlson’s Solen i spegeln, The Sun in the Mirror.
Why was it important?
When Lars O. Ericsson uses the expression socio-culturally conditioned subject in his book I den frusna passionens heta skugga, In the Hot Shade of Frozen Passion, his rehashing of old theories makes me recoil. At the same time, in the book he exposes artists that are convincing because they had started out by convincing themselves. That work began with The Sun in the Mirror.
Was it a question of both thought and craft?
Of course. It was also in keeping with the art I experienced during the 1950s. But in my work I concentrated on clarifying differences while others took a stand for a certain trend. I wanted to be neither an Expressionist nor a Concretist, but I had nothing of my own to offer, as twenty or thirty year-olds rarely do. Virtually all independent languages develop when the artist reaches his forties. Paul Cézanne was thirty-eight when he painted House of a Hanged Man. In Sweden no one seemed to think in those terms, but the feeling of not possessing an independent imagery continued to bother me.
In retrospect, what do you think about your paintings from the 1950s?
There are a few paintings I value, but in general I do not think they fit into the course of my real development. My mature art starts with The Gull. Those paintings of mine that are probably the best from that time are Moonlight, Summer Night, and Dawn. They convey a tangible feeling of nature and a sort of folk song atmosphere reminiscent of Lars Gullin’s jazz music. But in terms of language, these paintings are of no interest to me. As I said, I was young then, probably one of the youngest artists active in the 1950s, and it was natural for me to continue developing.
After The Gull and The Source you began constructing simple wooden sculptures that you later depicted in paintings. Why was this?
This was a follow-up of the earlier works. In The Source l kept the black wooden panel placed flat on the wall, but when I immediately afterwards lay the panel on the floor, I suddenly had a fully developed minimalist sculpture. The wooden panel
was already three-dimensional in itself, but this aspect now became more distinct. When I then started portraying these pieces, which I did early on before The Clouds Between Us, I was able to re-establish the imaginary objectness.
This was an important step for you as it meant that you could take up painting again. What were the aspects of painting that you could not find in sculpture? Sculpture and architecture expose that which is physically tangible. An imaginarily painted room conveys the opposite. Total intangibility, total silence and calm. For me a sculpture is exchangeable in a way that a painting is not. Painted images are something completely unique. Furthermore, it was enticing for me to remain with painting in 1966 when so many artists stopped painting.
You then started depicting your sculptures, transferring them to paintings. Why was this?
I call the paintings portraits. They are portraits of objects I had just made. The pendulum had swung back again. I brought along both tendencies from the 1950s, but combined them in a new way. I did not know at the time that they had any intrinsic value. I just did what I had to do. Today I see it as being a logical step.
You made several sculptures at that point, one of which is at the Malmö Museum of Art – The Source.
It is the same thing that hangs under The Source from 1962. But I have taken it down from the wall. By some fluke that painting is still around. It was standing in my mother’s hen house and was getting more and more destroyed. I burned around thirty of those paintings out here. Some were made of wood that I could have used for something else, but it was important for me to view them as works of art up until the very end in the fire. It also had to do with the fact that there was not a demand for such art at that time. I could not sell it. In that respect there is a difference between my situation and say, that of the Germans; Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and Georg Baselitz. A difference that can also be positive. They sold and made money, but at the same time, their production feels a bit varied. In my case there was no demand and they were in the way. They just had to be burnt up.
This is a method you still use. Why do you burn paintings that you are not satisfied with?
I weed out in order to make space for something else, hopefully something deeper. Making art is not difficult, even good art is within reach. However winning professional confidence in the art is more difficult. Selection is the heart of the working process. Producing art is easy, but rationing it is hard. Making decisions concerning one’s art is difficult, faltering and prolonged. The decisions lose their power and die. The dream of the image that alters everything remains enough, beautiful and abstract as well.
As a means of gaining an entry into your box sculptures, I have read a lot on artists such as Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and Robert Morris. I noticed similarities between you and the Minimalists concerning both the imagery and the way in which you view art. You touch on something that I find very interesting. Many of the Minimalists were painters from the start. This is important to note, but I have never read anything to this effect in the writings on Minimalists. Somewhere in my notes I wrote that Minimalist sculptures are not agitative sculptures – but rather wonderfully audacious paintings.You focus upon the origin of Minimalist sculpture – the monochrome painting. Were you yourself interested in the Minimalists during the 1960s?
Minimalist sculpture was and is an essentially disregarded art form in Sweden. In the 1960s I knew very little about the Minimalism of others. It was not until later that I realised there was a kinship between my conclusions and this type of art.
In both your works The Main Thread (The Source) and The Clouds Between Us there is a shape resembling a capital T. What does it represent?
The letter T does of course have a meaning. I recently noticed something in the work of Baselitz that brought to the fore a painting of his that I saw at the opening of Moderna Museet in Stockholm a few years ago. A solitary figure standing in the middle of the canvas. A vagabond negating Lenin and Stalin but nevertheless portrayed with the same type of realistic language. There are similarities with my T standing alone in a space and naturally representing an individual. T as in Torsten. There are also similarities with that which Donald Baechler mentions concerning Hill’s tree, about the loneliness of a tree. This is an aspect I recognise and can identify with.
The painting The Cage from 1963 represents a figure that is literally taped onto the floor in the picture. You’ve written on the painting: Portrait of the creative person’s role in the art world and society. I see this painting as a manifesto, a personal standpoint taken by you as an artist. Your abstract forms become in a sense populated by way of The Cage. The paintings gain an existential content beyond the purely art historical.
Throughout my entire life I have been drawn to art with a strong existential and metaphysical quality. Just as long I have counteracted such emotions through the instinct of self-preservation. For purely emotional reasons I have reduced The Cage and The Clouds Between Us to part of a linguistic process. They were carried out at a time when I felt intense isolation. If there are any noticeable remnants of such an existential and metaphysical isolation in these paintings, then I proudly confess. Perhaps that quality, which at the time felt private and reactionary to me, albeit in a positive sense, separates the European art of the 1960s from the American.
You then stopped constructing sculptures and since The Clouds Between Us you have worked exclusively with painting.
I realised I could paint again without having to drown in old painting. I thought it felt new, like a new possibility.
But you have kept to the idea that you are in fact painting sculptures.
That is very important! That is where I am, both historically and linguistically. It has been my language ever since The Clouds Between Us from 1966. I had achieved this earlier in smaller paintings such as The Maple Tree, also a portrait of a sculpture. But it became much clearer in 1966, and that is basically what I have continued doing.
Your works from the 1960s clearly allude to the various linguistic styles of painting. To what extent have you incorporated this into your more recent works?
I no longer need to make this a conscious effort. A conscious negation of obsolete stylistic dogmas aided me during the early phase of my language struggle.
Towards the end of the 1960s you quit painting for a few years. How did it feel to start painting again? Were you afraid you would fail?
Sometimes when retiring for the night, we pull the blanket over our head, turn our face to the wall, and are overcome by an intense feeling of pleasure at the prospect of sleep. That is how I felt in 1970 when I decided to alter a stressful, distressing way of life. The thought of having a few decades ahead of me without having to be compared with anything, and just engrossing myself in and consolidating my four year old imagery gave me an inner peace. The black and white, the grey, and the brown paintings confirm this withdrawal.
You have occasionally worked on what you call “biological architecture”. During what period was this?
It was during the 1970s that I coined the expression “biological architecture” to further the development of works such as The Maple and The Birch. This is probably most visible in the painting The Virgin Mary’s Stomach from the mid 1980s. I subsequently abandoned the biological in order to once again stress the sculptural characteristics of forms painted on wooden panels. The right angles of these forms reappear in my latest paintings. In this way these recent forms relate to my minimalist sculptures of the early 1960s.
Do the sculptures you have portrayed differ from each other with respect to content throughout the various phases? If you were to compare, for example, a narrative image such as The Blacksmith with your more recent works.
Yes, but The Blacksmith, is an isolated case. It is a depiction of a popular theme. It does not have the same desolation my works normally have. I made a few of these that were quite good, but they feel alien to me now because of my concentration on the language. My Frieze of Identity is about that which has to do with imagery. It is soothing. The depiction of popular tales with the Battahus blacksmith who was executed, Pernilla the orphan girl who was forced to beg in the streets, and Victoria Benedictsson who committed suicide, has to do with emotions, and perhaps I cannot really cope with that. Furthermore, I am not sure whether art is the right tool for that
or not. In order to change the social conditions for such people I would choose another means of expression.
Is it difficult to combine narrative content with linguistic consciousness in painting?
When working with so-called archetypal forms, the form has to be “pregnant” in order to feel meaningful. I constantly interpret things into my material. Painters actually work in a way similar to writers. When one is in a state of relaxation, new meanings arise by themselves. One is tired, but at the same time completely open. If an association or resemblance feels especially important, you try it again and perhaps you end up keeping it.
What comes first, the painterly expression or the content? Can they be separated?
Content in the form of a psychic archaeology precedes the painterly expression. But if I elucidate the psychic archaeology to the point where I start narrating, as was the case with the triptychs from the 1980s, the quality of the image deteriorates in a way that can only be described with the words loss and deceit. As though an impoverished and totally useless image emerges and pleads to me, just like the story of the Little Match Girl. That is why I am most fond of my work from the early 1960s and early 70s, not to mention from the late 90s with the large portraits of brown and grey masonite sculptures.
What have you been working on lately?
I had used forms intended for wooden panels for quite some time. When I imagined these forms, with their right angles clad in cloth, they resembled mattresses. I thought this was both logical and surprising. The fact that they bore a certain resemblance to my grandmother’s weavings was something I realised later.
Why did you begin to search for softer imagery?
My need for softer forms had to do with the fact that I had worked with wooden sculptures for so long. Then the thought of hopefully being able to free the pattern itself at some point struck me. The lines discernible in cloth are very beautiful if one somehow releases them mentally. They are like drops of blood spread over the entire white cloth. A red thread sewn into a white fabric. I suddenly saw that pattern as being extremely poetic.
Why do you want to free the pattern from the canvas?
It is the method of delivering a form that interests me. Even an ordinary form can surprise and be worth saving. As when a midwife delivers a child professionally. For the midwife the act of delivering a child is more important than the IQ of the child.
My method of delivering a form has to do with art, and art is the content of my painting.
You mentioned earlier that the paintings of cloth sculptures resembled your grandmother’s textiles. Ever since you left Stockholm thirty-five years ago you have been living in your childhood home. How has this affected you as an artist?
When I left the teaching job at the Academy in Stockholm, I had neither money, a place to live, nor a studio. Out here in the country I made a virtue of necessity. I concluded that the identity struggle I sought to study demanded a continuous solitary confrontation with unknown and unpredictable possibilities. I might have also been unconsciously drawn towards Walden Pond. A follow-up of sorts of the unanimity I felt towards Henry David Thoreau and Dan Andersson while in my twenties. I shared this interest with Börje Sandelin, a friend of mine from The Otte Sköld School of Art. Benarp’s Hall became my Walden. In this sense, I suppose I have remained somewhat true to my origins.
What significance does drawing have? Do you see it as a preliminary stage of the paintings or are they autonomous?
The drawings in the book are autonomous. I destroy all of my working sketches. I draw one hundred drafts and destroy ninety. The remaining drawings result in one hundred new drawings, ninety of which I destroy. Of the twenty drawings that remain, I choose four and destroy sixteen. A barely discernible connecting thought links the remaining four drawings. Via two hundred test drafts a system of codes is established. To those who might see this as a meagre result after so much effort, I would like to say that the effort is the result.
How do you regard the canvas? Is the canvas also used for sketching?
The drawing is the raw material for sketching – not the canvas. I do not start painting until I am done with the drawing. In the early 1970s I wanted to try painting on sackcloth but could not find the right cloth and did not succeed in grounding it properly. I then decided not to give the canvas any intrinsic value.
Do you spend a lot of time looking at your paintings?
I look at the drawings constantly but look very seldom at the paintings.
Do you work on several paintings at the same time?
As a result of drawing, four pictures remain after each phase of the course that constitutes the working process. Only then do I start using oils, and I paint the four paintings in rapid succession.
What determines that the painting is finished?
It is the drawing that determines when the painting is complete, but occasionally the painting makes me aware that I am not done with the drawing. I then wipe off the paint or destroy the painting and then continue drawing.
Does the nearly square format of the paintings have any particular significance? When I seriously took up painting again in the early 1970s, after my hiatus, I chose to work with box-like shapes. The boxes were approximately one square meter in size, as wide as they were high. This is how I decided on the shape and size of the canvas.
Do you paint on a daily basis?
Painting pictures is habit-forming. I always paint in the mornings, and rarely for more than half an hour. At times when I am anxious, I start painting before dawn.
What thoughts come to you when you start a new painting?
Lately I have concluded that all pictures, even the best, have a superficial visual look to them that can be set apart from their content and underlying ideology. When I look at my latest paintings I painfully realise that I do not paint any better than I used to. All my attempts at broadening the imagery only result in additional appearances. I do not wish to contribute more imagery to an art world already brimming over with an excess of unintelligent, homeless, and ridiculous imagery.
What importance does colour have for you?
A specific shape requires a specific colour. I always feel uncertain at this stage when faced with a new painting. Since I do not want to blend and fine tune the colours, I choose such colours that have a precious appearance from the start; cerulean blue, naples yellow, cobalt blue. Even emerald green, ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson can be made interesting with a minimum of effort.
How do you look upon the physical characteristics of paint?
It is tempting to say that paint borrows qualities from form. That paint is abstract in itself, but realistic in its task of visualising the object. These roles are both theoretically and logically conceivable, but are intertwined in practice.
Your works have a very particular appearance. Do you think your painting has a personal tone?
The sketch-like appearance has to do with my weariness towards the layered technique of the painting of the 1950s. I like to think my handling of the material is anonymous. I apply the paint as a mason lays mortar. I avoid painterly painting and giving the paint an intrinsic value. I do not see my art as personal, but I think my language is independent. Personal art is rarely a matter of personal language. Personal language entails an awareness of the language. I push the language ahead of me.
In an interview Francis Bacon characterised painting as being a result of a contradiction between material and content. Can you identify with this description?
In monochrome painting the tension between material and content has ceased to exist in that case. Yves Klein used rollers. In its reclaimed state, painting possesses a tension, though to a lesser extent. This painting does not see its purpose as breaking from the total fiction of the 19th century. The reclaimed easel painting presents a creative intelligence that is closely linked to the act of painting, without focusing on either the material itself or the content. In a sense we paint nothing, since a good painting is just as enigmatic as nothing.

Torsten Andersson

Work Notes

Torsten Andersson, Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings Årsbok, SAK, Värnamo, 2002

At the age of seventeen I started painting at the Scanian School of Painting in Malmö. The lessons consisted of registering the colour of an object, transferring it to a canvas or a board, and doing so using the technique of a commercial painter.
I became completely enchanted by this task. I saw the encounter between the craft of a mere fence painter and completely useless painting as something wonderfully enigmatic.
How have I been able to live an entire life as an artist without coming straight to the point and stating that my art has had to do with nothing ever since then? That this nothing can in fact be art, and that art can suffice as the content of an image.

It is in the silent speech that the motivation for art is established. This is where the struggle for identity takes place, as does the struggle for language. The revealed language is merely a shadow of the inner language.
It is in the silent speech that I create a condition that counteracts the impulsive, and the openly emotional. This is where the struggle to divert the disturbances takes place. Here I recall what I have set my mind to do, to motivate myself to perform actions that will lead to future goals. In art, the goal and consequences are not close at hand.
Anything I choose to do I can do, although I have to really want to do it. To deliberate the examination of impressions and appeals and fend off perfunctory answers. Even the material itself and the craft are soiled by motor impulses. I want to counteract such things and use the basic skills of a commercial painter.

The sculpture motif is my language, my history, and the history of my language. The sculpture motif constitutes a break with earlier painting and those “hybrids” that followed modernism.
The sculpture motif spans my entire palette.
When I paint the masonite sculptures lacquered in bright colours, I execute a polychrome form of painting. When I paint the marble sculptures I make use of a “French paint culture” – focusing on the milky saturation of the marble. When I paint the cloth sculptures I paint chequers, dots, and stripes. I would like to think that this variation is compatible with independence.

According to the Swedish Academy Dictionary, the word ideology has to do with dream and logic. Two words that better than any describe imagery. Logic is the language. The dream is the adventurous handling of the language. By this I mean the adventurous deviation from imagery as a prototype, archetype and norm,
In practice I encounter shards of art history. If I avoid the shards then I negate the whole. This thought feels adventurous to those who, as I, see the art form of painted images as having exhausted all of its old languages.

I am a craftsman. A craftsman does not deal with emotion and content. Emotions and even content are integrated into the craft in the same way that intellectualism is integrated into intelligence. As Robert Wilson says to Ingela Lind, beauty is all about making decisions. Genuine craftsmen and important artists are not intellectual, they are intelligent. That is what makes their works so invigorating, and so wonderfully free of emotional and intellectual pretensions.
Beware of those who spread myths about artists. Edvard Munch the recluse, the morbid Francis Bacon, the insane Carl Fredrick Hill. These myths are spread by those who wish to portray themselves as more normal and intellectual. Their intellectualism is essentially different from the intelligence of the victims. The amazing aspect of Carl Fredrik Hill is his intelligence – the same kind of intelligence that can be found among all important visual artists. The intelligence dictates the choice of path. Artists in general, and in all certainty writers as well, readily use intellectualism as an amenity and a method. Strindberg even wrote long appreciative writings on Julius Kronberg. The genuine creator of images transforms his own general intellectualism into intelligent action. Beauty is about making decisions, as Robert Wilson says to Ingela Lind.
Strindberg betrayed Hill, and Munch as well, because he was basically an amateur when it came to the visual arts. He thought in a way that amateurs think, much about content and little about language. He did not take note of the specific intelligence that springs from specific conditions. With Strindberg and Munch, a classic opposition is brought to the fore. On the one hand, literature with its touch of “haute couture”, and on the other, visual art with its xenophobic myths.
In direct opposition to the intellectual guardian, I believe that the genuine visual artist can be recognised by his demanding awareness and intelligence. The eccentric aspect is an invention formed in the minds of the intelligentsia, filling the same cosy function as Santa Claus. With astounding naiveté the intellectual establishment ignores those who attempt to intervene in an art historical process. Some would say the establishment is interested in the avant-garde. Yes, but they are always slightly too late, when that garde has already become the norm and has lost its charge for the creative person. Thus alienation is created.
The first Hill painting I saw and remembered very clearly was at Stenman on Karlavägen in Stockholm. That was in the mid-1940s. The painting represented a sand dune at Fontainebleau and was painted before 1878. The painting felt “strange”. The surface was granular, as though Hill had glued on a mass of flies and then dusted the whole thing with skin-coloured powder. The sickly surface had the capacity of transforming itself into a bright summer landscape. I recently read how Hill would mix pieces of glass into the paint. If this is correct, then Hill was already a pioneer artist before 1878.
He transformed the materiality of French painting into a logical, bold, and for his times, completely independent action. Hill was not an Impressionist, or what I call a Pine Forest Impressionist. Being a Swedish Impressionist is as independent and unintelligent as being a Swedish Dadaist. Hill chose what Ivan Aguéli described as virgin territory. Hill’s intellect was focused in a creative, visionary, and even an ingenious direction.
At the age of twenty I found myself pulled into a state of mind that must have been a depression. I was drawn to the darkest type of art. The dark symbolism of Olof Sager Nelson, Ernst Josephson at Brehat, and Hill’s first moonlight landscapes from the forest at Fontainebleau. When I awoke from my melancholy, I had already been at the Royal Academy in Stockholm a few years and had met Ragnar Sandberg. It was Ragnar Sandberg who lured me out of my depression.
In order for an artist to internalise another artist’s life, in a deep and sincere way, that should really happen during youth. For me, it was Hill’s early dark works that provided access to Hill the individual. This took place early on in my life, at a time when I had an extreme need for those kinds of people. People who openly confirmed that they were ready to pay the price of being an artist. If someone asks me in what way Hill has influenced me, I simply answer that I do not need to be influenced by Hill. I am Hill.
It was while absent-mindedly painting a sculpture, one that was a consequence of my painting in the 1950s, that I experienced how painting as an art form freed itself from its content, stepped outside of itself, and studied itself from without. The art form of painted images felt more important than its content. It was at that point that I left the pitfall of painting, the preserved and confined, without resorting to populist and cross-cultural methods. I felt as though I was the first painter in a completely new phase of painting. I did not even consider a receiver. After all, how could a responsible Swedish intellectual take this seriously, that I, Torsten Andersson, would attempt to define and even steer a global art historical process? Accepting and registering the fact that the course of events and the steering thereof is controllable, demands an intelligence that is situated outside, outside as in “alienation” and “madness”.

(first published in Carl Fredrik Hill, Malmö Konstmuseum, 2000)

Kari Immonen

Interview with Torsten Andersson

Ulrika Levén (ed.): Carnegie Art Award 2008, Stockholm/Värnamo, 2007

Kari Immonen: You will be exhibiting four paintings in the forthcoming Carnegie Art Award exhibition. The first two are named Stick Sculpture – Personality as Language and the other two, Blood-Coloured Flow – Personality as Person. You have made portraits of imagined sculptures (and paintings) before, most notably sculptures ‘made’ of wood and fabric. Where did these ‘stick sculptures’ come from?
Torsten Andersson: The line that I’m depicting is actually three-dimensional and in the process of painting, this ‘line’ ceases to be a line, and assumes a shape. To put it briefly, I wanted to transform a two-dimensional line into a three-dimensional one. Of course, these works also deal with my ideas of pictorial or painterly language and its relationship to those that make up the actual works.
Another crucial aspect in this particular context is that I wanted to exhibit works – or pairs of works – that are totally different from each other in their approach.
KI: The ‘stick sculptures’ are manifestly sculpture-like, whereas ‘flow-works’ remind me of fantasy architecture. They also radiate hostile or frightening feelings – in short, they hint at something more personal.
TA: I agree. They are more threatening and relate to dreadful experiences and feelings that were very much present when I made these paintings. They are actually more personal and private. But at the same time I have to admit that I haven’t been too happy about the reviews filled with clichés, where my works have been scrutinised with amateur psychoanalysis. I actually had a very happy childhood.
KI: Language and text are fundamental in your art. You have ‘inserted’ words into you paintings, and at the same time, the titles are crucial to understanding your works.
TA: Initially, I wanted to unravel the connection between language and individual, and I’ve persistently been doing that since the 1950s. You mentioned the ‘painted’ words in the works. The function of these words is not visual or compositional. They are there because I strive to make the content of my works as unambiguous as possible. I don’t want to separate the visual from the textual. Content should be clear and that’s were the text literally comes ‘into the picture’. The vital question is not how one paints but what one paints.
My outlook on art differed radically from that of my teachers in art school, and instead of taking the usual route, I discovered language. And it was a great discovery, although it proved to be a very lonely route indeed.
KI: You are a prolific drawer, and when drawing you test and develop different ideas which ultimately find their way into your paintings. How do you untie your painterly knots?
TA: It’s all about surprising yourself. I start by trying to untangle the chaos. That process can be as simple as looking at a forest or vegetation – zooming in on the plants. This seemingly chaotic vista is filled with miniscule forms, which I start by drawing attentively, in an almost cubist-like fashion. This eventually leads to something I like to call a final image. I work with shapes which in a way construct a language – it’s not about figurativeness or abstraction – it’s something in between. At any rate, I find isms and styles totally uninteresting. I’ve positioned myself outside different styles and the whole mindset that relates to them.
KI: Do you believe painting still has something to offer – that painting still has possibilities?
TA: Well, since you ask: yes, I do think that it has relevance. One of painting’s obvious strong points is that it has such a vast territory in comparison with more contemporary media. There’s so much more one can relate to.
KI: Do you mean tradition?
TA; Yes, but also the contemporary situation – art history in the present. I think it’s tremendously important that we, as makers – and the public – have a field of comparison at hand. But at the same time I would not want us to concentrate on visual arts alone. Music, dance and other art forms contain incredible poetic qualities; and similarly, in painting, one can find astonishing beauty.
July 2007

Magnus Bons

Close to the ribs of the hidden passage

The Frieze of Identity, Torsten Andersson 52 Images of Memory, Torsten Anderssons Stiftelse/The Torsten Andersson Foundation, Stockholm 2011

“I have always acknowledged that the viewer is
perfectly entitled to interpret the artwork, but at the
same time I have emphasised the artist’s duty to
organise the relationship between the artwork and
its reading.”

Torsten Andersson

In a written reply to my question about how he sees the viewer’s role, Torsten Andersson draws attention to his own role. From the answer we can infer two things – on the one hand that he was very clear about what he wanted to express with his art, and on the other that he was anxious to convey it to his audience, in order to avoid misunderstandings and to steer the viewer towards his own thinking. I assume that is what he means with “organise the relationship between the artwork and its reading”. It was very important to him to be aware of not only where his work was located in art history but also in relation to himself. No doubt, Torsten Andersson’s art takes place in proximity to his person. Perhaps not as an immediate expression of it but more as a protection.
Almost all the books and catalogues to which Torsten Andersson contributed contain texts in which he describes his view on the content of his art. In several of them his handwriting plays an important role. In a booklet published by Lars Bohman Gallery in 1992 the text is presented both printed and handwritten, which is also the case with one of the texts in the catalogue for his retrospective exhibition at Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 1986. The book you are now reading is perhaps the most explicit example of the relationship between word and image in Torsten Andersson’s art. It is a facsimile of his document Identitetsfrisen (The Frieze of Identity), in which the selection of paintings is intimately related to the artist’s handwritten texts. Perhaps it is an indication that the relationship between work and author was kept alive through the presence of his own autography?
The Frieze of Identity is Torsten Andersson’s final attempt to recapitulate the meaning of his work. The wordings he uses here are as disarmingly immediate as they are imaginatively thought-provoking. We can read about the background to Andersson’s first birdlike drawings, about the dreams in his Fortplantningssviten (Reproduction Series), about his attempts to create a one-man tradition, and about 19th-century concretism. The document was concluded in spring 2008 in conjunction with his establishing of the Torsten Andersson Foundation. The book’s paintings are part of the foundation together with the studio where they were conceived.
The fact that Torsten Andersson used the term the Frieze of Identity earlier demonstrates that it was of great importance to him. Already in spring 2002 he employed it as the title of his retrospective exhibition at Dunkers Kulturhus, Helsingborg. The catalogue presented a facsimile of a handwritten note in Torsten Andersson’s characteristic autography:
“Everyone carries their identity frieze, dragging their mysterious red thread behind them. For the artist it is a matter of becoming aware of the thread, raking it in and at the end of his life, placing it in front of himself.”
The quotation points to an almost moral imperative, which, according to Torsten Andersson, was part of the artist’s role. The Dunkers exhibition was a way to fashion his work – both for himself and for his audience – into a clear, coherent line, a process he continued and concluded with this book. During the same time I conducted an interview with the artist, which was published in the Swedish art association SAK’s 2002 yearbook. Monica Nieckels, the book’s editor and initiator, asked Torsten Andersson to write something about his body of work. He soon returned with the text De sju faserna – Identitetsfrisen (The Seven Phases: The Frieze of Identity). Both here and in the exhibition at Dunkers he divided his oeuvre into groups of works in a similar, chronological manner. Did perhaps the Seven Phases come to function as a draft for the design of this book?
Torsten Andersson’s most famous paintings – Måsen (The Gull], Källan (The Source) and Molnen mellan oss (The Clouds Between Us) from the 1960s – are, in the Seven Phases, placed in the earliest stage of the frieze, språkkampen (The Language Struggle), which also lays the foundation for his continued work. While the works are among his most important ones, they are still somewhat outside the frieze, seeing that the paintings are parts of the collections of the Moderna Museet and the
Malmö Konstmuseum. Strictly speaking, The Frieze of Identity consists of the paintings he lived with in his studio, the ones he could look at every day and which, for various reasons, he did not part with. Which he did not sell – or burn.
Here, Torsten Andersson reasons and acts just as Edvard Munch did. Munch was also constantly in close proximity to his most important paintings. If he sold one of them, he immediately made a copy of it, Torsten Andersson explains in the interview for the SAK monograph. Munch called his collection the Frieze of Life and Torsten Andersson’s Frieze of Identity is an explicit reference to it. For Munch, the frieze was an umbrella description of a group of paintings that could be replaced by others. Torsten Andersson used Munch’s cover-all term Frieze of Life as an educational tool with which he described his life’s work. As a respectful homage to the older master.
But what did Torsten Andersson think of Munch? In my interview Andersson talks about Munch as an “ever-present cog in the art historical process”. Munch was an important link to the past and Andersson often returned to him in his remaining notes, always in the company of Emil Nolde and Mark Rothko – a trio of prominent artists who were joined by their refined sensitivity to the overlayings of paint. “Munch surgically removes the proud flesh through language,” Torsten Andersson told me on one occasion. As if they shared the same method and goal. Although the statement indicates a powerful identification with the Norwegian painter, the affinity with Munch should not be exaggerated. Torsten Andersson was very interested in both older and contemporary artists and their work.
Still, there is a painting from Munch’s Frieze of Life that I have long associated with Torsten Andersson’s work. At first sight, Red Virginia Creeper (1898–1900), seems to be far removed from Andersson’s abstract portraits of sculptures. We see the image of a man with an anguished look gazing at us from the bottom of the painting. Behind him – placed centrally on the canvas – there is a square house whose walls are coloured red by the creeper. Flowing lines of thin paint form a road that leads from the house to the man, joining them together. The events in the painting take place in the relationship between these two parties. In the middle of the front of the house there is a blue-greyish bay window that protrudes from the wall. If, indeed, it is a bay window, because it does not really have a visual counterpart in the painting. And at the same time it is, to me, the focal point of the painting – a meaningful divergence. Why did Munch paint the protruding section? What did it represent to him? And why did he make it so curiously strange? It is difficult to imagine that it does not affect the man’s state of inner confusion.
The bay window has always reminded me of the shapes in Torsten Andersson’s paintings. It penetrates the surface of the house in a similar way as the wedges do in some of his sculptures. Suddenly and unambiguously. Also, the expansion of the red colour on the house façade, with its patchy layer, has much in common with how Andersson apportions the paint on his monochrome motifs. However, this is just a superficial similarity with Munch. There is also a mutual, more profound feature, which reaches beyond the artists’ different historical contexts. They both created images out of torturous necessity – compelled by an inner pressure. Their canvases describe individually coloured conceptions of reality.

“When we close our eyes we see a monochrome room.
Aided by memory and many drawn and painted
attempts, we can discover and account for objects in
this bouquet of light. We read in things we have seen
in the real world. Details from reality can appear with
a hallucinatory clearness in these visions.
It is this kind of clearness that Giacometti looks for
when he studies the real world. Giacometti searches
for visions with the help of reality.
I turn around the order of priority. I search for
reality with the help of visions.”

Torsten Andersson

“An important painting is a painting in human shape.
An important painting is a human being in painting

Torsten Andersson

At Galerie Burén in 1966, Torsten Andersson presented for the first time his key work The Clouds Between Us. It is an austerely descriptive painting in which the image’s almost identical objects – two Ts – reflect each other in a perspectival depth. In the painting there is spatial distance, which is enhanced by the manner in which the Ts are represented. The first one is painted as if it had corporality – the second one is completely flat. However, that which makes the letters different also brings them together. They are simply the result of two different ways of looking at the canvas – as a figurative space or as an abstract surface. And this insight is decisive for Torsten Andersson’s entire oeuvre. He can paint something non-figurative as if it was figurative, and by doing so he brings together painting’s illusionary tradition and abstract art’s objectivity.
His work, however, can not be reduced to questions about style and depiction. Just below the surface of his abstract sculptures, an emotional level opens up. A partly concealed layer that connects to the painting’s motif. A catalogue was published in conjunction with his 1966 exhibition and in it Torsten Andersson described the background of his paintings:
“I was alone in the countryside for a long time and I missed my son. In the room in the city where he was, there was a piece of furniture – a piece of furniture that looked exactly as a piece of furniture in the room where I was. At one point I clearly noticed how these two objects turned into shadows of each other. And the distance between these two shadows had repercussions on all my relationships… In order to create other connections to the metaphysical reality that had pained me every hour of my life, I consciously allowed the distances in time and space allude to differences between language’s styles and technical and compositional structures.”
The poetic tone of the quotation elucidates a complex scene where everything is in a state of flux. Moods, thoughts and time-distances are brought together and separated in the depiction of his art’s quavering centre. Figuration, objects and depiction reflect and, at the same time, change places with one another, as in a dream. The space between the two T-shapes in The Clouds Between Us also becomes an image of actual spatial distances. And emotional shortcomings. As in Munch’s painting, there is a staging of a situation of exposure in what may be described as a psychic image.
After this, Torsten Andersson provided evidence of this existentially-coloured level in an implicit manner, integrated into his painterly craftsmanship. The exceptions are his Folklivsskildringar (Folk Tales) and the “biological architecture” of his Reproduction Series – a kind of boxes with billowy shapes and soft outgrowths. But these white-painted sculptures do not really reveal their human origin. Most of all they look like houses.
Even though Torsten Andersson mainly focuses on refining his paintings’ linguistic level, a painful life situation is, indeed, noticeable as a dusky, tangible presence. It is as if his paintings have taken root inside the unexplored spaces of existence. On the canvas of an early painting, Torsten Andersson writes: “The
mood in the outlands, the hidden passage – behind your ribs”. I imagine that the round holes that perforate the bird bodies that we see on the first page of the document mark such a passage between an inner and outer reality. A cavity where the heart is.
Nevertheless, it is somewhat surprising that Torsten Andersson, in his Frieze of Identity, sums up his life’s work by relating several of his paintings to fragments of private memories. We can read how the nightingale has influenced his art, how he as a sixteen-year-old drew spring storms, and about the door bells he found at Stede, the house of his family of trumpeters. What I find most touching is the section about his black-and-white cows – that is, a quartet of black-and-white paintings, which he, according to an old peasant tradition, has kept and handed over to the next generation. As a heritage sprung from the soil. The black-and-white paintings were the first ones to be incorporated into his foundation after he had “left his workshop”, as he laconically expressed the fact that he had stopped painting.
When he subsequently began to take stock of his activity as an artist, a long selection process ensued. The work led to the establishment of the foundation’s collection of paintings and the presentation of this material. In 2008 he also published his autobiographical book Mellan språk och person finns en differens (Between Language and Person There is a Difference) as an additional result of the retrospection. His final years as an artist were characterised by a reflecting, documenting and formulating activity.
The work led to the fact that Torsten Andersson brought his life-long conflict between language and person to a head. The three concluding sheets in The Frieze of Identity are parts of his definitive synthesis of his body of work. The painting series Pinnaskulptur (Stick Sculpture), Personlighet som person (Personality as Person) and Diptyk diptyk (Diptych Diptych] each accounts for the different steps towards the final division of his pictorial language.
As he believed that he was not able to incorporate his person into his language, he regarded the split as inevitable. “My studies of the pictorial language as a language has frozen my emotions”, he wrote in a note. In order to illustrate the separation he used the word “personality” as the paintings partitioning prefix. At the same time the word is invested with a conjoining function as a common denominator. One could say that it was a matter of making clear the difference between his private person and the professional role he had assumed.
He designated the Stick Sculptures as “personality as language”, an anonymous continuation of the rummaging in the grammar of the pictorial language, while Personality as Person was just that – a depiction of his memories of the gloomy year of 1966. He saw his figurative paintings of tombstones and scaffolds as something fundamentally different from the Stick Sculptures’ abstract display of colour. He reached the conclusion that his art comprised both parts, but they could not fit into a single image.

“It is not my personality as person, but it is my
depicted person, the luminous shadow that is
suddenly transilluminated by an inner light.”

Torsten Andersson

Torsten Andersson’s final series of paintings consists of his fantastic innovation Diptych Diptych. We see a duplicated image pair, Blodfärgad rännil – Personlighet som person (Blood Coloured Flow – Personality as Person) and Pinnaskulptur – Personlighet som språk [Stick Sculpture – Personality as Language), where each diptych has been divided into a painting about his person and a painting about the linguistic shape of his images. As in The Clouds Between Us, the separation reflects differences between abstract and figurative images. Personality as Person has its origin in Carl Larsson’s ambivalently emotional painting Ulf i aftonsol (Ulf in Evening Sun) (1889). Reading about the work in an article by the author Carl-Johan Malmberg, Torsten Andersson was captured by the description of Larsson’s darker side and desire for revenge. In his text, Malmberg entertains the thought that the painting is Larsson’s version of Munch’s The Scream, even though it was painted several years earlier. “Images read images, images are images’ keys”, Malmberg writes and I suspect that the phrase corresponded exactly with Torsten Andersson’s way of thinking about art. The most important thing for him was the image’s inner conception – the physical painting was just its material manifestation.
Both the red fence’s impregnability and the flow’s disguise in the grass on Blood-Coloured Flow, I read as representations of Torsten Andersson’s personality, his character and his background. The grass is filled with blue blood that seeps out from the fence, which, according to him, is the price the artist has to pay for his creativity. In a late interview, Andersson talks about how he as a young artist was reshaped by his art studies. He claimed that he lost his innate creative power and that a self-conscious figure stepped forth and “took over my entire person and my work”. This, his depicted person, is represented by the Stick Sculptures’ depersonalised sign for art.
“Is my language the difference between language and person?” Torsten Andersson writes in his autobiographical book after having realised the impossibility of accommodating them. Perhaps he also realised that he had been there all the time, in the dividing line between language and person. At any rate, that is how I perceive of his art – as an expression of both. Because, if his art takes place in a separating intermediate position, it should mean that this glitch also borrows features from both sides? Even though it takes two canvases to demonstrate the difference. The Clouds Between Us was preceded by Den röda tråden (The Main Thread) – an almost identical work, but consisting of a sculptural object and a painting. Two parts that both represent a T.