At a time when conceptual and abstract art was favoured throughout the art world, Odd Nerdrum returned to the techniques of painters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio, who are amongst his earliest influences. In stark contrast to the work of his post-war contemporaries, the Norwegian artist favoured traditional craftsmanship and subjects, which limited his output to a small number of paintings each year and set him apart from mainstream contemporary art history. With his manifesto ‘On Kitsch’, Nerdrum argued for a return to painting as craftsmanship rather than the conceptual practice that art has come to be identified with.
With this highly unorthodox approach, Odd Nerdrum’s enigmatic paintings explore unresolved narratives that invite comparisons with surrealist artists. In Dawn, four identical half-naked male figures, strangely dressed in black cloaks and peculiar headwear, dominate the foreground. Their bodies are imbued with great quiet and stillness, yet the slightly distorted and highly tense posture of the four unleashes an unnerving dynamic of a mute suffering. Bluntly exposed bare skin of the limbs is juxtaposed with the invisible upper body, hidden away under black cloth, as if creating a surreal vision. Odd Nerdrum’s landscape backgrounds, although dreamlike, convey a strong sense of realism – the studies for the painting were made by the artist on his repeated trips to Iceland.
Perfectly capturing Odd Nerdrum’s signature aesthetic in its surrealist composition that is executed with the skill of an old master painter, Dawn is an iconic work from one of today’s most enigmatic painters, and refuses classification within the categories of contemporary art.
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