Rolf Hanson

When one considers that these works are executed at a scale unique in modern Swedish painting and have a heavy materiality definitely rooted in postwar American art, it seems awkward to talk of Symbolism. Still, this is what one must do when confronted with the 33-yearold Swedish painter Rolf Hanson’s large, extremely flamboyant oil paintings.

This show comprised works painted between 1982 and 1985, many of which are composed of three or four heavy wood panels inserted into black frames. The elaborate early abstractions are pervaded by a stifled erotic energy engendered by skillfully handled bodies of color that pulse against one another. Next followed a number of works in which the surface’s violent movement seems to merge the heavy forms into a slow, darkly scintillating lava flow In the most recent and formally complex paintings—such as the demoniacally beautiful Cousnoun, 1985—the soft surface opens up to reveal an impalpable, fragmentary landscape.

In these stalactitic abstractions the viewer’s gaze wanders between thick curtains and flapping shreds of color: the eye meets now a sparkling, jewellike spectrum with flaming will-o’-the-wisps of gold leaf, now a color of a feverish, tubercular heat, only to be confronted suddenly with the muted gray-green shimmer of a Nordic woodland lake. "I do not believe in what I touch nor in what I see. I believe only in what I do not see and exclusively in what I feel?’ It is not particularly surprising that Hanson should quote Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau in the exhibition catalogue. The formal expression he approaches when he willfully employs every corner of the large surfaces is unequivocally Symbolism—not only Moreau’s version of it but also, and perhaps primarily, its Nordic/Russian guise, the embodiment of an antirational effort to link inner psychological forces with the mystic powers of the Nordic environment. This wild nature, with its magical overtones elicited by the light of the summer nights and the long twilights of winter, has made Symbolism a Northern European vice; although it peaked in the 1890s, it is stillevident, not least in the films of Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky.

Therefore, to talk of “inner landscapes” in connection with Hanson’s paintings almost amounts to a truism. At the same time, however, they depict a region that in a peculiar way mirrors the Swedes’ increasingly complicated relationship with nature, living as they do in a sparsely populated country that contains immense wilderness areas yet is also one of the most developed postindustrial societies in the world. Han-son’s grafting of a mythical “Nordicness” on a New York School format exaggerates the paint’s sensuous effects; the bittersweet hues assume an artificial luminosity, as though the burnt sugar of the turn-of-the-century palette had been replaced with Aspartame. I gradually began to see these landscapes as inner ones in a physiological rather than a psychological sense, as a parallel to Lennart Nilsson’s famous hyperreal (to use Jean Baudrillard’s term) photographs in Life magazine of the wild caves of human arteries and the primeval forests of human cells. Is this a Post-Modern continuation of that oscillation between spiritualism and realism that Kirk Varnedoe has seen as a characteristic of the Nordic symbolism of the late 19th century?

Lars Nittve

Translated from the Swedish by Lars-Håkan Svensson.