Three days in Tromsø

Posted on January 26th, 2019 by

The view form my bed. Fløya. the eastern mountain at midday.

This is an overview of the weekend that I was able to spend working with the wonderful team at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, Norway. This was the second time that I have worked with this group and the second time with this particular Jan Groth ‘gobelin’, Tegn V; inthe spring of 2017, I was privileged to explore this piece in the context of Kunsthall Svalbard, the extreme-north outpost of Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, in Longyearbyen. Read more about that trip here:

26th January 

Jan Groth’s Tegn V, glowing, at Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum

Peter Sheppard Skaerved – Lysebu (A Futhork for Jan Groth)

Live at Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum 27 1 19

I am in Tromsø to bring my ‘Futhork for Jan Groth’ project to the Nordlys Festival at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum.  Groth’s Tegn V, with which I worked for the first time at Kunsthall Svalbard, in 2017, is now hanging here, so I will give a pair of concerts next to it tomorrow, at the museum.


Tromso Harbour at night, 25 1 19

Everywhere that I go with Groth’s extraordinary vision in my inner eye, he/it teaches me to look again. So it is here, as his spartan line, and rich asperity of gesture reveal lines of rock, air, cloud, snow and water, that I had not thought.

Polar wave form cloud just after dawn

Floya, from Elverhoj

But the most important business of today, was time spent at the astonishing Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, the only modern art gallery in Northern Norway, with the inspirational Bodil Kjelstrup. It was Bodil, who, in 2017, gave me an extraordinary window into Svalbard, so it’s great to be back working with her gain. Here she is, talking with my wife, Malene Skaerved, about an woven piece by Aslaug M. Juliussen.

It is always a joy to spend time with Bodil, and a real privilege to have her take us around this wonderful gallery, which confronts issues often skirted by the uber-cool world of the contemporary art world. Here, all art is treated as the warp and weft of the human experience, and our dialogue with landscapes real and imaginary.

In conversation with odil Kjelstrup, a treasured collaborator and inspiration

Through Jan Groth, the late work of Peder Balke (1804-1887) came to be central to my own approach to the violin and the pencil. Nordnorsk  Kunstmuseum owns some of the greatest, and first among these is this depiction of the Northern Lights.

Peder Balke -Nordlyser (1870)

Not only can Balke’s work stand alongside the greatest seascapes of Turner, van der Velde and Caspar David Frierich, he also offers a glimpse of the future, in his ‘truth to materials’, his links and obvious inspiration on the work of Groth himself, and even to the the work of Gerhard Richter.

I love my hotel practice desks. Working with my Jan Groth-inspired material developed in Bergen , London, Oslo, Minneapolis, and here in Tromsø, inspired by the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum . 26 1 19

Groth has said of himself: ‘

‘I overlap in all directions’

..and seeing Tegn V in this new setting proves his point yet again.  Today, I was struck by a parallel with the extraodinary Syerskes Julaften  by Christian Krohg (1852 – 16 October). It’s no surprise that Krohg was a student of Eckersberg, and that he spent time at Skagen with the Anchers and Peder Severin Krøyer. But this exstrordinary example of grisaille realist painting quite literally rules a straight line to the concentration (the artist’s word) of Groth’s application to lines on paper, tapestry and in sculpture.

‘The Seamstress’s Christmas’ Christian Krohg (1852 – 16 October)

How many paintings, in between the world of the diptych and the innovations of the 20th century, cut the canvas from top to bottom like this? Naturally this is powerful social comment, coming from a similar source as H C Andersen’s A tale of a mother or Zola’s l’Assomoir. But it’s the graphic power that struck me today, especially only a few feet from Groth’s black and white tapestry-a piece of craft this seamstress with understand.

It is a testament to the work of Groth and his generation that now, a gallery such as this can feature artists working in a variety of media which have been dismissed in the past as craft. particularly by the high-minded contemporary art market of the ‘white cube’ era. Early in his career, Jan told me, a potential patron turned on his heel and left Jan’s studio when he realised that the works that had drawn him there were gobelins, tapestries.

Groth tapestries on show at MIA Minneapolis in September 2018.

Malene Skaerved and I were moved by the works of Aslaug M. Juliussen and the Sami artist Rose-Marie Huuva. Their sensitive crossing between media modes of story telling, their reach, from the worlds of the hunt, the nomad, through to dialogues with the work of Louise Bourgeois and Groth, has given us real food for though in our own work. Weaving is central to both their work.

On of my working pages inspired by Groth in Tromso

27th January Concert Day

My home for the weekend. The Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, which was built in 1917, as Tromso’s Telegraph and Post Office

An extraordinary, uplifting day, which began with another roseate, slow dawn. I gave two performances in front of Tegn V at Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum. One of the problems of being so far North, is that the sky is always astonishing: repeatedly, I find myself standing, slack-jawed, at the meteorological wonders on show.

1 pm, from the top floor of the museum. 27 1 19

Of course, this is in now small part due to Groth. I have been so fortunate, over the past 2 years to have Groth as my guide to the North, and most particularly, to the light in the north. It continues to be an astonishing gift, to have his minds-eye in mine as a try to get a grasp on these beyond-human vistas.

Rehearsing with ‘Tegn V’ 27 1 19

I gave two performances in front of the tapestry, and next to glowing Hockney which you can see to the right in the picture above. Along with my works responding to Groth, I played Playford, Vilsmayr, Eccles. De Machy, and Matteis, and read extracts from Leigh Fermor, Tennyson, Thomas More, and ‘The Seafarer’ (Saxon). In the second concert, while I was playing my ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ (which I wrote on Svalbard in 2017), a baby at the back of the room made some delightfully musical contributions, which people were still talking about afterwards.

It was wonderful to me to find, that after the events, people wanted to talk about Jan Groth’s character, his vision, and his sense of humour. If there is one small think that I can do as a peformer, it is to be vessel for the voices of others.

Later in the evening, Bodil drove us out of town and up on to the top of Kvaløya. There nature the artst stepped in, and standing in a stiff breesze in minus 15 degrees (windchill -25) we were overwhelmed by Aurora Borealis.

Malene Skaerved and Bodil Kjelstrup with the Nordlyser 27 1 19

I don’t mind admitting that, every day, natural wonders, from the ‘every day’  to the ‘once in a lifetime’,  remind me that, as an artist, I am a rank beginner, compared to nature. When confronted, immersed, by the Northern Lights, what can one do?

To see more about the project on the Museum’s own site, click here: LINK

I am profoundly grateful to Jeremie McGovern, Bodil Kjelstrup, Kjetil Rydland and all the team at Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum for this live-affirming few days.

Leaving Tromso 27 1 19