Helge Wahl - retrospective

This exhibition shows for the first time a retrospective presentation of Helge Wahl's (1933-2008) drawings and graphics. Wahl worked somewhat with watercolor and towards the end of his life took up painting again, which he had turned away from early on. But this exhibition is only concentrated on what were his real media, figurative depictions in black and white in drawing and graphics.

Character tips

He started with graphics and gradually became more and more into drawing. With the drawings also came the large format. He had a considerable talent for exploiting the possibilities of expression in the rich range from completely black to completely white. He found the agent in the printing ink and graphite. He processed the printing plate so that its varied qualities gave the exquisite visual passages we see in the prints. The graininess of the relatively coarse paper gave a similar resistance and opportunity to evoke the expressions he wanted.

Helge Wahl opted out of abstraction and the so-called non-figurative. He eagerly approached literary-inspired - and in principle literary - themes. Something happens in the pictures; the image elements and scenes can go into processes and narratives. It is something that has preceded what we see and something will follow. So it was in the surrealistic, deep-psychological, fantastic and burlesque traditions that he found sources for the inner and outer images that created a sufficient visual and psychic energy that he managed to channel into potent and condensed form.

For generations he belonged to the counterculture, the version of and heir to the classical avant-garde that in the 1960s deliberately distanced itself from the modern, western, technological, capitalist, "imperialist" and materialistic worlds. The part of the North American, internationally dispersed mass culture that emphasizes entertainment, beautiful surface and large consumption, was not for Wahl. Should he cross the Atlantic, the trip went to Mexico, not New York City. His direction of interest pointed mainly to the south and east. And he searched back in time for something deep, wondering, secret, scary. The anxiety and fear that everything could slip or collapse was in some cases processed with humor and visual games based on puns. As an artist, he did what he could not to appear up to date. That he nevertheless followed exceptionally well in international late modernism and contemporary art can be understood as feeling a need to constantly critically evaluate his own quest and course and to find common structures in other artists that he could process and invest in his own work.

Helge Wahl's art consists of concentrated and intense scenes. The images have a focus that seems mentally photographic and almost clinical. The details in them draw the viewer to the image. The images are built with familiar shapes and figures. For example, he used many sharp shapes, shapes that everyone knows are dangerous and potentially very destructive. He shows deep depressions and gloomy caves, embalmed bodies, substances that crack, dolls stabbed with voodoo sticks and torn limbs, boulders that threaten to fall and that are almost desperately held up by ropes and thin sticks. And there is a lot of lashing and fencing. On the whole, the transient and the futile in building stable, lasting and open structures is a recurring theme with him. The transition tone is minor key.

With the help of joint references and the audience's own experiences and cultural ballast, these images open up for a myriad of interpretations. The artist shows courage by being willing to open up to the pain and anxiety of life, and to the many discomforts of culture. In the catalog of the exhibition, there is an essay where themes and individual works are interpreted in more detail with references to other artists and cultural currents that surround these images as a wide horizon of interpretation.

Helge Wahl appears with this exhibition as an important artist, who with simple means appears as a challenge for us, simply because he had so much important to say.

Åsmund Thorkildsen

Museum director and curator of the exhibition

Monday to Friday 11.00 - 15.00

Wednesday 11.00 – 18.00

Saturday 11.00 – 16.00 (free admission)

Sunday 11.00 – 16.00