What better way to look into the theater of painting than with a painter/playwright? Lars Elling fits the bill and reconsiders Artaud giving us theater and its other double, painting. True to painting, he reels the viewer in; true to theater, he creates a scene to unfold and hemorrhage. But like a dry wind, his work starts the crackle caw chorus of memory. Elling’s work makes memory talk.
Watch a virtual gallery walkthrough of his show Fictions at Nicholas Robinson Gallery:
Following is an e-mail interview between Lars and I bridging Norway and Brooklyn.
Richard J. GoldsteinWhat came first, the paintings or the plays? Were the paintings a natural extension of your playwriting or vice versa?
Lars EllingExpression came first. Both disciplines are born of a desire to be seen and heard—perhaps even understood (!) I am a natural painter since childhood and I’ve never known any other life. I’ve also been an avid reader, ever since the code of letters was broken for me in primary school. The plays are extensions of ideas that become too literary for a painterly subject. Psychological tensions within the picture plane have to be subtle and ambiguous to avoid banality. The plays can expand on my themes and flesh them out in dialogue and action.
RGDo you combine disparate sources in your plays as you do in your
paintings? Or is this strictly a visual strategy at building drama?
LEYes—there is a parallel strategy here. Writing the plays usually starts with the forced combination of two or three ideas that I find interesting, but which have no common logic. The brain is a lazy bastard, always looking for the cliché, so this is a way of preventing the path most travelled. As for the paintings I try to juxtapose visually interesting elements and let them evolve freely on the canvas.
People and situations appear and disappear in the process, leaving marks of their temporary existence. I don’t try to be coherent. Instead I pursue what I find visually challenging and go wherever my fancy as a painter takes me. However, painting is such a slow process so eventually logic and readability, to a certain degree, will creep back onto the canvas.
RGThe titles of the paintings point to your literary background. They are equally elusive as the paintings. Do you intend the to use the titles as a key to the action at hand?
LEMy titles are intended both as trap wires and as signposts. They are, in some instances, meant to keep you out, and sometimes to ease your reading of a certain painting. None of them are accidental and I think they are meant to get your attention and keep you from shuffling halfheartedly through the exhibition. I want to give people a generous helping of what they haven’t ordered.
RGBy confounding the viewer with the seeming passage of time and
spectral accumulations of imagery, is there meaning to be gathered or
revealed? Or does there even have to be?…if so, would you consider yourself equally a non-objective painter as a figurative painter?
LEAny painter who realizes the relation between the gesture the hand and brush makes and the imitation of life it leaves on the canvas, will cease to see himself as a figurative painter. “Cesi n’est pas une pipe,” and so forth. In my work process, any visual element is interchangeable with any other. An arm will become the branch of a tree. An ape will become a sofa. A face will dissolve into a brushstroke. The colors and compositions decide. I see painting as a profoundly abstract discipline, and yet, most of my finished work is representational—go figure. In the theatre two kitchen chairs and the sound of a whip will give you a horse and buggy. A painting will present you with the choice of regarding it as object or as open window. This is old news, and it’s still interesting.
RGTurning the canvas has been a strategy of painters, especially non-objective painters, to thwart associations of form to imagery. By
doing this, clearly the directional axes shift, however the center
does remain fixed. If at all, what role does the center play in your
LEI usually work in square formats. The center is a place I try to avoid because it inhibits the possibility of a dynamic composition. When I turn canvases and attack them from the sides, it’s usually an attempt to lure my eye and brain away from the all too obvious solution of a painting.