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Taste the word: HIDEOUS. Art does not have to be pretty, nor is it supposed to be nice. It can be beautiful, but sometimes art has to be ugly. That may also be beautiful.
When the Irish-British author Oscar Wilde wrote his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890-91), he created an image and an idea of how the quest for beauty shapes us. Dorian Gray was so absorbed by his own appearance and his dissolute life that he sold his soul. He made a pact so that he could keep his teen beauty. At the same time, all his actions and life experiences would be deposited in his portrait. Our life experiences shape us, but the ageing that Dorian Gray normally would have been exposed to – due to his self-enjoying, hedonistic way of life –never had an effect on him. He remained as handsome as he was in his youth, while the painting depicting his portrait decayed, day by day.
Such a story could hide behind every single painting in Trude Madsen Viken’s first major solo exhibition. Maybe not the moral questions the novel raises, but the paintings are definitely a reminder of the physical process Oscar Wilde describes. I would assume that many, if not most people that visit Gallery Albin Upp in Oslo, will be astonished by the unique paintings. They show ugly-beautiful faces, painted with thick (impasto) layers of paint, which dissolves the shapes in the paintings. The facial features become unrecognizable, but the paintings are fascinating in a way that can endure the wear of time.
However, these are not paintings of real people. Instead of the paintings being portraits of actual people, the pictures can be seen as a form of self-portraits. Not as depictions of Trude Madsen Viken’s own physiognomy, but more as a picture of the demanding process of finding her own artistic expression. The artist has chosen this expression as her painterly challenge. Trude Madsen Viken’s paintings stand in a tradition of formal, expressive experiments where predecessors as Otto Dix, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele have used this technique and expression to various extents. However, no one – to my knowledge – has gone this far and worked consistently on this theme over an equally long period. Trude Madsen Viken uses the paint to reach her goal of finding her own artistic expression.
Trude Madsen Viken has worked hard on this series for a long time. Within two years she has produced over 100 portraits in the A4 format, but she also works in larger formats. The work has coincided with three years at DTK (the Interdisciplinary Institute of Art in Bærum), as well as three years with the Norwegian painter Markus Brendmoe as her mentor. For two years in a row she came to the final round of Gallery Ramfjord’s juried, scholarship competition, which resulted in an invitation to do a small solo show in the gallery. She has also had three portraits in a juried exhibition in Bærum Kunsthall.
I am convinced that these paintings will find their audience, and that a lot of people will be as fascinated as I was. Many of the pictures have fresh colours, but the basic attitude is dark. This gives the series a serious character reflecting the reality we live in today.
Lars Elton is a Norwegian freelance journalist, critic and editor. He is the art and architecture critic of the Oslo daily newspapers Dagsavisen and VG. He also writes for a wide variety of publications.