RED SAILS (on canvas)


By Jarle Strømodden


Do you remember we another person

Green and black and red and so scared

Graffiti on the wall kept us all in tune

Bringing us all back home


On encountering the paintings of Morten Slettemeås, one is facing a revelation of diversity. Something familiar, catchy, gusty, unknown and difficult to grasp, all at the same time. He works within a classical field of visual art, namely painting. Meaning that he is utilizing a classic form (landscape or portrait), creating classical motifs (figure or landscape), a classic technique (oil on canvas) and a classic execution (brush and palette).

He has developed a characteristic language and his paintings are constructed with lines, points and colour fields. He is an expressionist in coloration, but not in execution.

The challenge of painting, or more precisely; the painter´s challenge, is relating to a language (assuming one can imagine the possibility of colours on a canvas used as some kind of linguistic exercise) which is incorporated and well established. As a visual artist, and especially within an area so firmly grounded on a defined set of values as painting, it is always interesting to observe and try to understand artists who defy this language.  

There is no breaking boundaries, but rather something more transcendental. The pictures embed visual dynamics where the eye misses natural focus, and the spectator is kept in motion. In one painting we find a person drinking from a bottle, or two persons sitting down, or a tree – and that´s it. These are scenes or compositions or relatively prominent elements of the picture, but they do not take a dominant or centering position. They seem to be only appearing, rather than standing out. There is no detailed drawing of the bottle, the person or the trees, but nevertheless we can see them.

The minor paradox is that it´s almost never like the motifs are able to form a whole. The paintings can be the base of a story, but the story has no evident beginning or end, because there is no evident beginning or end.  As a painting, this reminiscents texts being cut up in sentences and words, and restored without reestablishing its original meaning. What we were confident with in the beginning, no longer seems recognizable.

In spite of this, this is not what we refer to as painting about painting, but painting as painting. The meta levels of art may be present, without being ostensible or obvious. This is a particularly nice and reassuring thing. At first glance, the paintings seem to be playing on the visual and traditional, not without the qualities of intellectuality. The visual qualities and traditions unifies impressionism and expressionism. To take the last first; it is a gusty coloration and constellation of colours that may seem accidental. It is hard to put the pieces together in a greater whole. But little by little some of the parts (figuratively speaking, of course) fit together. Perceived as such, there are elements of impressionism, in the sense of particulars seeming to coincide only when one takes a step back.

Considering Slettemeås is working within a two-dimensional media where the public traditionally are perceived as a passive, observing factor, we do sense that he breaks up this convention a little bit. The composition of the painting isn´t summarized, rather than put together by lines, fields and contrasting colours. This, in its own way, it literally forces the observer to be active in the attempt of putting the pieces together. The particulars of the painting seem relatively clear and grab our attention. But as a whole, we are facing visual dynamics, or uneasiness, which leads us not to keep  focused for long. There is no clarifying whole, but rather a story that has just begun, without linearity, being colourful, catchy and uncomprehensible, just like David Bowie´s Red Sails.