New York, 521 West 21st Street #1
Rita Lundqvist is a Stockholm based artist best known for her small-scale narrative paintings, depicting enigmatic narratives. Combining a Surrealist sensibility with a Minimalist aesthetic reminiscent at times of American folk art, Lundqvist populates stark settings, often dominated by the a flat horizon line, with characters in situation detailed just enough to allow viewers to imagine the depicted scenarios.
Lundqvist’s most recent body of work will be on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York from January 5 to February 4, 2017. Artspeak contributor Jennifer Wolf interviewed the artist about her upcoming exhibition.
— How does your new exhibition relate/differ from your past work?
Rita Lundqvist: I see my work as one continuous exploration of painting. There is a visual vocabulary of motifs with people and objects—stones, holes, trees—that reappear throughout my compositions. For this exhibition, all of the paintings are quadratic, which may mirror the repetition within the compositions themselves. This is not something I planned; I simply continue to explore expression through painting without stopping to calculate. It is an ongoing study.
— Do you create your paintings with specific narratives in mind? If so, could you please give some examples?
RL: There is no specific story or stories in my work. I don't start with one in mind; rather, I start with a figure, an object and move them around to build a composition. They develop, multiply, disappear, and at some point, the picture is complete.
Of course, there are moments while working when a story or memory will come to mind, an element I've painted will resemble something or someone familiar. But I pay more attention to composition and color rather than fixate on narrative, and soon it disappears all the same. When I started this body of work for the exhibition, there was a sentence "these are the cards" that kept coming up in my mind. I can't recall where this line comes from, a Bob Dylan lyric or perhaps Johnny Cash—something American. The imagery of cards on a table, flat and serial, perhaps guided the first compositions, at least initially. These things can be relevant in the beginning, but as I continue, they are forgotten.
There is so much storytelling in Sweden, but in a way, I am really a storyteller myself. It comes to me easily, but I have to have the space to contemplate and project as any viewer. I want the works to be open to everyone, including to myself. Everyone has their own story, so it is important that the work is open for this. Often with figurative painting, the work can be too inviting, in the way that they allow or even require the viewer to participate, to take part in the picture. I want it closed in this way, so that everything is on the surface. From there, one can reflect and bring their own associations. I am much more interested in this.
— How do you believe the small format of your paintings effect the reception of them?
RL: For me, format is not the issue. Color and composition are my primary concerns. That said, I do want my paintings to occupy space and be seen from a distance as much as close-up. Of course, there is an intimacy created by this smaller-scale: when one comes so close to something, everything else disappears and you forget the world around you. The rest of the world is locked out. I like that, but it is important to me that they always also work from a distance. I want my work to function in this way.
— Who do you consider your main art historical influences to be?
RL: I always have great joy looking at Italian Renaissance paintings. Piero della Francesca, Giotto. When I started painting, I was thinking a lot about de Chirico, and soon after, the Italian Renaissance. I found a book of Italian Renaissance paintings in a bookstore that I looked at very often. I am interested in a lot of artists, including contemporary. But I have always had the most joy looking at Italian Renaissance painters-- I still do.
— How do you see the position of figurative painting today?
RL: The contemporary art scene is broad, but I believe there will always be an interest in and a place for figurative painting. Today, you don't see much figurative painting with younger artists. It seems there is much more of a focus on other media—video, photography, installation. These things go in cycles, such as with handicrafts, textiles which are everywhere now. Figurative painting might not be the hottest thing in painting today or tomorrow, but it will never disappear. When I started, it was the big colorful canvases of Immendorf that everyone was looking at. At that time, in the ‘80s, I was making these small paintings. I never thought there was a future for work like this. But then came Post-Modern art and so forth. Storytelling is everywhere now, to an extreme which I don't like. The power disappears when there is too much of anything.
Jennifer Wolf is an art administrator and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked in Chelsea galleries since 2010, and holds degrees in art history from Stony Brook University and Hunter College.
On view through February 4, 2017