Bo Bjerggaard

Per Inge Bjørlo

26 Apr - 23 Jun 2012

© Per Inge Bjørlo
To you, to me, to us and the sound of crows, 2012
Stainless steel and rubber shavings
360 cm x 380 cm
To you, to me, to us and the sound of crows
26 April - 23 June 2012

Per Inge Bjørlo: Inner and Outer Space

The year is 1984, and those who saw the black rubber room by Per Inge Bjørlo (b. 1952) at Henie Onstad Art Centre outside Oslo, Norway, are unlikely to forget it. Filled to the brim with strongly-smelling rubber materials, the installation set the tone for the then 32-year-old artist's long artistic career as we know it today. "It's a matter of keeping a scream alive inside yourself, against all the oppression in society and the creeping passivity," said Bjørlo at an early stage of his career. For those who have continued to listen, Bjørlo's screams have persisted through continual new artistic challenges.
Bjørlo works with several techniques, but the undertone in the artist's exploration of various media and materials is always consistent and recognisable as Bjørlo. His art takes its point of departure in two Norwegian communities: his childhood environment in Spjelkavik, Sunnmøre, and the place where he has lived since the 1980s, Hønefoss in Ringerike. He draws his inner space from his childhood in Spjelkavik. In Hønefoss, Bjørlo's close and unique collaboration with the Follum paper mill - and the materials that this collaboration has given him - have guided his artistic production. With this as his starting-point, Bjørlo has developed a strong, personal artistic idiom.

Bjørlo's artistic approach is governed by an intensely serious attitude to life. It's about suffering, pain and horror, about leaden materials and the physical act of forcing art out and forth, until he is exhausted. He enters into the private sphere: into mother, father, deceit and shame. Into his own childhood and psychological spaces. Bjørlo has always drawn, to the extreme, upon art's potential to process subjective and personal spaces. Not, we should note, because this was a convention in the art world when he established himself in the early 1980s, but because it is his artistic driving force. Episodes of one and the same drama are distilled down to essences, pure forms and an expressive use of materials. At the same time, he invites us - often quite literally - to enter. The artist works not infrequently in a large format, and emphasises the physical and sensuous aspects of the work. Bjørlo's world of experience, which we as viewers encounter through his works, is therefore not purely private, but is closely related to the general experience of being human.

Bjørlo made his debut as a graphic artist in 1980, and has since continued to work with this technique through many different series. His international status as a graphic artist is shown not least by his cooperation with leading American master printer Kenneth Tyler and Tyler Graphis Ltd. in New York. In 1994, Bjørlo was for the first time invited to Tyler Graphics Studio to work. The cooperation has since resulted in a series of lithographs and linocuts, and later etchings. However, it is not graphic work as a technique that has fascinated Bjørlo but, as in all his artistic production, the manner in which this technique is capable of giving visible form to an internal conflict.

Bjørlo has a strong feeling for materials. The effect that the materials have on the viewer, the ways in which they can refer to physical states or an inner life, or carry within them an inherent social criticism, are of relevance even to the artist's early works; but he also retains and develops his sensitivity to the significance of materials in his later, industrially-produced works. In common with artists like Joseph Beuys and Eva Hesse, he combines the manufactured with his own craftwork; hard, minimalist abstraction with soft organic curves; the harsh with the formless and sensuous. His goal is always to arrive at a kind of "realism" or "authenticity" in the expression. This is a common theme that permeates Bjørlo's artistic universe, whether in the form of sculpture, drawing, graphic techniques, painting, installation, or his many public works.

Much of Bjørlo's art is about processing or visualising a form of anxiety or insecurity. About being scared and "hugging the walls", as he puts it. Or "seeing life from a different perspective". Bjørlo holds up all the awkward and vulnerable aspects of being human in front of us. He shows us the unbearable and horrifying sides of life. At the same time, his works possess a strongly aesthetic foundation. They're not about being seductively beautiful, but about something genuine and true. In line with this, a softer touch often plays against the harder side of Bjørlo's works. We see this manifested in, for example, the remnants of colourful textiles that appear in several of his later steel sculptures, in the fragile glass works with their sharply-pointed foundations of steel, and in the paintings' well-composed colour combinations coupled with a vehement and lively expression.

Bjørlo is one of the leading and most consistent Norwegian contemporary artists. His graphic works - and his drawings - form a particularly distinctive part of his production. In self-portrait after self-portrait, we see the artist depict himself in a raw and brutal manner. At the same time, his lines possess a sensitivity that makes the expression seem infinitely sad and vulnerable. There is nothing unequivocal about being human, and somewhere the crow is always on the cradle ... as this exhibition helps to remind us.

Caroline Ugelstad
Head Conservator, Henie Onstad Art Centre

This text is an excerpt from the book Per Inge Bjørlo, published by Pax Forlag in 2012, with texts by Caroline Ugelstad and Stig Sæterbakken.

Tags: Joseph Beuys, Per Inge Bjørlo, Eva Hesse