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Double Room

by Kjell Strandqvist

I was a bit surprised the first time I saw the small studio interiors.

Richard G. Carlsson had long worked at developing a style of painting with an artistic idiom drawn down to a minimum. Here were images created with a limited scope and colour. An informal abstrac­tion of sorts held together by loosely applied geometric figures at times so sparsely brushed on to the point of seeming on the verge of disappearing. Rectangular forms and distended bands wedged in from the edges of the pictorial surface creating an extended movement. In a rugged, albeit fertile painterly humus, intuitive compositions were cultivated forth consisting of flat forms with a mild, bal­anced light and a colour scale concentrated to a spectrum of warm and cold grey tones. The contrast between geometric form and unfettered, loose brushwork created an expression that could simulta­neously feel both vague and precise. A flat world of surface rather than of space, the deciding factor being the meticulous sensitivity for nuances with which the light was modulated, a subtlety of hand that enhanced the simple geometry with a unique quality.

Actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all.

Although the work of the artist I had previously come to know was dominated by a constructive ap­proach, there was also another parallel aspect that allowed for a figurative approach and a curiosity for the experiences of others. Looking back to see what others have previously done, and forming a relationship to the past is natural, but the manner in which one relates to a bygone tradition depends on one’s background, education, and personal character. Despite the fact that education and knowledge of the craft have changed and weakened, many artists possess a vibrant interest in past achievements. Who, after all, has not stared intently into the toolboxes of selected predecessors in their struggle to find a path of their own in their formative years, even if one has not always been certain of what one finds specifically appealing. That gaze and that interest is a vital component in the development of the separate individual and also provides a clue as to what is coming.

For a painter, the boundary between the figurative and non-figurative is, in a practical sense, not espe­cially hard to transgress. Moving between two positions is in reality relatively simple, but on a mental level not always friction-free. The convention that splits image creating into a figurative and non-figurative sphere is not entirely unproblematic as it tends to polarize a tenuous and arbitrary process. Overstepping a boundary so closely scrutinized seldom goes unremarked. This is perhaps not always clearly expressed, but it is often pointed out nonetheless. Some still make an issue about performing on both sides of the line, a circumstance that easily influences how things ought to be interpreted. Con­sistency is a highly regarded trait that indicates aesthetic coherence and continuity, which are sensitive issues for an artist. But the criteria for continuity and consistency are far from written in stone. In the face of such recent formalist crossroads such as figurative vs. non-figurative, individual artists have often been unnecessarily forced to take an all too narrow approach. Considering that all art is in a sense abstract, a shift should not be seen as an impossibility. One must, in other words, be able to move between two different rooms without losing face. It all ultimately depends on how well one manages the exertion required to defy convention, or, to put it simply, the quality of the result.

The shadow of the foliage projects itself against an abstract structure.

The studio, the workspace where most painters spend a better part of their hours, has over time varied in appearance due to changes in work processes and economic status. Workshops or studios have, as the terms suggest, certain key differences with regard to toolboxes or lighting demands. Every artistic technique poses its specific demands on the function and appearance of the workspace. It is a place, a space, the vicinity of which, whether urban or nature oriented, presumably also has a certain effect on the works produced there. The multitude of disparate details can easily create an apparent disarray that can seem chaotic for the uninitiated, but to the individual occupying the premises is merely another form of order. We project our perceptions on to the image of the studio as often filled with parapher­nalia, fragments and material that can seem enticing and stimulating to the imagination. It is an image of an attractive, yet for many, strange and slightly exotic environment that we fill with the smells and movements of the artistic activity’s creative endeavours.

Richard’s paintings of a number of well-known artists’ studios based on photographic material is undoubtedly linked with the tricky complication that arises in the juxtaposing of the figurative and non-figurative. For obvious reasons he has based his renditions on photographic originals, that is to say, images that already possess a formulated suggestion of form and light. The characteristics and qualities of the photograph therefore have an influence on the reformulation of the image in another technique. It is a suite of paintings in ink on paper of familiar studios, many of which have been fea­tured in numerous books and periodicals. It is natural that he has omitted the artists in his images, as it is primarily the workspace that interests him and not the physical person, even though the selection is far from haphazard. Because the photographic documentation spans a long period, the images re­flect a collection of various approaches to the studio as a workplace. In other words a collection very diverse in character, and as a viewer one is perhaps more interested in why rather than how the images are made. The depictions bear an element of an act of mastering, reflecting perhaps the desire to create a metaphorical neighbourhood, or an attempt to catch sight of one’s personal situation from an outsid­er’s vantage point. Perhaps one can view the usage of optical originals as a desire to enter into a more detailed space in order to compare differences or distance himself from the personal sphere. This has resulted in a suite of small paintings with a relaxed and flowing precision and perhaps a little more elegant than the portraits of his own studio, an aspect that to a certain extent can be accredited to the originals. Has he come closer to the crux of the matter when taking on the task of analyzing the double-sidedness of his work as an artist? That is hard to say, but it has at any rate resulted in an alluring and thought provoking collection of ink-washes that undoubtedly enhances the situation.


The distance between the positions, surface and space, that engage Richard G. Carlsson can at first glance seem larger than they in fact are. The small, realistic studio interiors, like the compositions, consist to a high degree of tempered surfaces and joined planes that create a conduit of sorts between the non-figurative and the figurative approaches. The naked surfaces of the workspaces are de-picted with a subtle scale of grey tones, delicately and effectively varied by shifting from warm to cool – a colouristic constraint that aptly portrays the austere room with its artificial lighting in which the paintings themselves are executed. The relationship between the surfaces of the two positions creates a singular, albeit slightly puzzling dialogue. One tends to end up back to where one started. Although the artistic results achieved are easily perceived as self-evident, the work process itself has without doubt at times been experienced as rummaging in the dark – seeking out solutions to aesthetic problems always involves tentatively exploring unknown territory. Only in hindsight can one look back and see the answers ly-ing there in tidy rows – with everything seeming so obvious and orderly. Just as the unassuming motifs themselves, the titles are laconically dry and informative in character. It is as though objectivity itself could explain their existence.

His pictorial world possesses a singular sense of logic on a conceptual level, and colouristically redu­ced as it is, it can at first be seen as restrictively limited with no room for frivolities. But if one accepts the few components and enters the naked room, one soon notices that it contains considerably more than one registers at first glance. Reduction and limitation should not be confused with intellectual construct where everything is preconceived and defined beforehand. Here, ideas have been given free reign on uncharted waters where problems are solved along the way, and one can ask oneself if it even truly is a question of free choice. Based on an artist’s own prerequisites, an unpredictable path emerges along the way, leading to a form that must be nurtured in order to develop. The interaction between his paintings’ separate realities is an incisive way to deal with some of the problems in the wake of one’s personal temperament. Despite the austere and pragmatic tone in fine-tuned, robust colour chords, his paintings nevertheless exude confidence and quiet amplitude.

One should perhaps not ask oneself why Richard Griffith Carlsson chooses to reside in two rooms at the same time, but instead focus on how he does it.

[Excerpt from the book Workspaces-Dialogues]