‘Roundabouts’ is the largest exhibition to date of the work of Andreas Eriksson who, together with Fia Backström, represented the Nordic Pavilion in the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. On that occasion the close dialogue between the pavilion’s architecture and its natural setting – especially with the three trees that are the ex libris of Sverre Fehn’s 1962 architectonic project – did not do justice to Eriksson’s painterly research, as it suggested too literal a counterpoint between nature and culture, presence and representation. ‘Roundabouts’ attests to the full strength and maturity of Eriksson’s work in a show that explores the artist’s complex relationship to the environment and the human presence within it.
The description of Eriksson’s works calls for the invention of new terms, because the available ones – landscape, nature, memory – have gone through centuries of wear and tear and are irrevocably associated with the hackneyed tropes of the European Romantic painting tradition. Perhaps a successful articulation could be achieved using the same process of applying thick layers of pigment that the artist uses to compose his paintings, and adopting it to writing by combining multiple layers of words, one on the top of the other, until the resultant phonesthemes speak for themselves.
The intensity of Eriksson’s work can be felt in the opening room, as five gigantic oil paintings surround the visitor. Spanning floor to ceiling, the paintings are composed through the juxtaposition of multiple fields of colours and textures, resembling large patchworks of murky tonalities of brown, grey and green. These earthy tones inevitably conjure associations with tree trunks, rocks, mud and foliage. But it is impossible to trace any topography, scenery or perspective in Eriksson’s paintings. They have a strong hallucinatory power in that their lack of north- or southward orientation produces a disjunction, making it hard to understand where the sky and the ground lie. Amid these outlandish visions, stains of colour appear: a yellow blob in Behind a Tree (2010); a bronze longitudinal stripe in Trunk (2011); a green stain in Vasterplana Storang I (2011). These emotionally charged, animistic landscapes are some of the most inebriating visions of nature I’ve seen.
In the rooms flanking the main exhibition space, two series of sculptural works explore Eriksson’s daily encounters with animals that leave their traces around his studio. The floor of one room is scattered with Untitled (Molehills) (2009–11), bronze casts of molehills that Eriksson found in his garden. The other room presents the casts of over 20 perching birds that, unable to distinguish reflections from nature, crashed against the windows of the artist’s studio to their deaths (‘Content is a Glimpse’, 2009–11). Eriksson has been gathering the dead birds, which he casts in bronze and present with the sprues necessary to produce the casts. Surrounded by thin, irregular, branch-like forms, the brids seem to be partially returned to their natural habitats.