Adding a welcome splash of colour to January and bringing some dramatic Norwegian landscape to Newcastle is an exhibition by Frans Widerberg. BARBARA HODGSON basks in its light
HAZY landscapes shimmering with water, sun and light are on show at University Gallery by the man considered Norway’s second most important artist (after Edvard Munch) and who is the father of the man who created the eye-catching sculpture that stands outside.
Frans Widerberg and son Nicolous – who have both exhibited at the Newcastle gallery in the past – explore shape and form in their own ways in their work which visitors there can examine side by side – almost – until February 8.
Nico Widerberg’s sculpture of the elongated figure of Pillar Man is a focal point outside the gallery, where it was placed in 2004 to mark the spot where underground rivers flow through the city.
Inside the gallery it’s his father Frans who has a starring role, with his exhibition of paintings Dreamer in a Landscape (accompanied by his own small, and beautifully formed, horse and rider sculptures) some of which have never been shown before.
His “glorious” watercolours – as described by gallery director Mara-Helen Wood – are suffused in light, as in his scene of The Sun About to Set Behind the Fjordline, and Water and Blue Clouds in Golden Light.
The Oslo artist, working with a red, blue and yellow palette, can conjure up colours that positively glow, while others convey dark Norway skies.
He often worked in Liguria, northern Italy, and the shimmering heat and mirage-like images he creates – like in his scene of Tovo, an Italian village with terraced vineyards – recur in his Norwegian work and find echoes, we discover, in Edvard Munch’s bloodstained skies.
The light effects aren’t softly Italian nor Arctic cold, but more Aurora Borealis perhaps and at other times a nuclear blast. The total effect is to suggest other worlds and, drawing from his country’s dramatic landscapes and deep-rooted Norse mythology, Frans’ paintings feature strange dogs and winged horses – one of a horse and a rider in a wasteland is like a scene plucked from Goethe’s spooky poem The Erlking.
Other subject “dramas” include a confrontation between Adam and Eve in an arid waste, inspired apparently by frescoes by artist Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence which show The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Frans’ paintings tend to be a case of the more you look, the more you find.
But even at first glimpse their swirling, intense colours make an impact.
His long association with our region includes showings of his work – and Nico’s – back in 1999 as part of Visions of Norway, a year-long celebration of the special relationship between Britain and our nearest neighbour across the North Sea.
The artist continues to work in Oslo, the capital city where he was born in 1934.
And, says Mara-Helen, there are plans for a new book to mark his next big birthday.
“We’re working on a book documenting all the paintings to come out in 2014 to coincide with his 80th birthday,” she says.
Nico Widerberg, meanwhile, was recently part of the great debate in Norway about how best to commemorate the 77 victims of convicted murderer Anders Breivik.
Following discussions with the families of those killed during the bomb attack and mass shooting in 2011, Nico created two sculptures – one in bronze, one in plaster – in his studio in Oslo, of a pillar half hollowed-out with a silhouette of a figure: the originals for multiple contemplative memorials, each carved with extracts of a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen, which were unveiled across the country on last summer’s anniversary of the massacre.
Frans Widerberg Dreamer in a Landscape runs at University Gallery, Newcastle, until February 8, alongside the exhibition Cornish in Paris. The gallery in Sandyford Road is closed today but re-opens tomorrow. Normal opening hours are Monday to Saturday, 10am-5pm (4pm on Friday and Saturday). Visit www.universitygallery.co.uk