A sudden splash of red, yellow and blue

  • a few short notes on the state of painting as seen through the work of Morten Slettemeås


By Tommy Olsson


Taken at face value, the visual output of Morten Slettemeås can prove tricky to pin down to a specific time and place. Indeed, exposed to several pieces at once, a sort of timeless stream of colours seem to pour over the inner eye, as if the artist suddenly drenched your internal life with huge buckets of paint and big, majestic strokes of brushwork. No doubt working within, or rather on the outskirts of, a well established tradition, Morten Slettemeås still navigates within a cultural minefield where the history of the modernistic project lurks around in the background, ready to blow up in your face upon a closer look. If we choose to read this in the context of our time, however, thus leaving the timeless qualities behind - this is also a good place to start when considering the recent history of painting, a medium declared dead more often than any other. Possibly this ever-returning certificate of death is a contributing factor to the impact of the medium upon its regular return. However, I will not speculate on why this is so - there are a number of reasons why it is considered relevant in 2011, and why artists again choose it as a vehicle for their research. But in recent years we´ve seen quite a few of this generation of painters also turn to a form of re-evaluation of the various sleeping limbs of the modernist discourse. Not Slettemeås, though, he was already doing it years before the rest of the lot, and was already from the start difficult to place within the shambles of a definition we usually label ”contemporary art”. Why was it, in the middle of the noughties, that what was essentially a fifty year old approach to painting suddenly worked so well? And again, even in this perspective, these images dont really fit. Expressionist? Yes, definitely. Abstract? No, not at all. The paintbrush that Slettemeås picked up was more likely dropped in Berlin 20 years earlier by the last zeitgeistpainter before being picked up by a gallery, and thus loosing some of the adrenalin that only real desperation can produce.


We all know the rest of the story; despite various attempts, at various points in time, the medium seemed lost in that moment. Then everything changed again. Maybe for this reason, that which  I think we all know deep within our hearts; that painting is not only a production of the mind. All painters know this instinctively - this is the kind of activity that excludes all others, and demands use of the whole organism to be worthwile. The effect this has is ultimately that the painter - if he or she really intend to go somewhere with his or her work - eventually will see his or her identity as a human being as something secondary to the identity as a painter. The medium demands this kind of dedication, something that no doubt contributes even more to the impact it has on every round of being recycled and transformed.


Now, in this post-postmodern state, the idea of originality - also dead and buried long before the millenial shift - is maybe the last taboo left to break. I mean, even the notion of the artist as genius, or a romantic mythological creature, unbearably sensitive, is present in the landscape. Yet, the idea of being ”original” has not yet been brought up for discussion. A painter like Slettemeås, who obviously draw a lot from history, is still easily recognizable by his broad, violent strokes of paint, and the values of his colours. Could it be, that under the ever-expanding web of reference points, all painters, if not all artists, over time will develop a sort of artistic fingerprint that will prove difficult to hide? Something that will make their work instantly recognizable? Then, not that it matters a lot, but just because this thought crossed my mind just now, what could possibly be more original? But of course, artistic skills come with practice, and if everyone is original the term is just as useless as if the very idea of being original is impossible. How often have I not heard it from a younger art student: ”Everything has been done before”. Often enough to have moved dangerously close to the moment when I punch the little brat in the belly and snarl ”No, it hasn´t, you little twat! Now, go get to work before I punch you again!”.