Kim Hiorthøy, Too Old Too Fast, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 67 × 55".

Kim Hiorthøy, Too Old Too Fast, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 67 × 55".

Kim Hiorthøy

Vladimir Nabokov once wrote of the allure of the blank page, seeing in it “a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” But to other writers, the blank page is an intimidating figure, the supreme symbol of writer’s block and the self-inflicted pressure of a creative process. The fact that the untouched canvas has never grown to reach quite the symbolic heights of its paper cousin is perhaps linked with the story of modern painting. The weight of history and convention inherent in the medium can also be intimidating, but how threatening can a blank canvas be, really, when it’s already almost a monochrome?

If there is such a thing as painter’s block, however, Kim Hiorthøy wouldn’t at first glance seem like someone who’s ever suffered from it. After all, the forty-six-year-old Norwegian is known for his prolific output in a number of fields, having done highly successful work as a graphic designer, writer, musician, film director, and more, while remaining productive in the field of visual art. His debut feature film, The Rules for Everything, premiered in 2017, and a monograph of his illustrations and graphic design work is due to be published this year.

Still, “On the Way to Work,” his latest solo exhibition at Standard (Oslo), was the a rare presentation of Hiorthøy as a large-scale painter. Here, unlike in earlier exhibitions that have focused on drawings and other small works, Hiorthøy showed definite hints that he, too, might be subject to the numbing awe that leads one to produce nothing at all. On view—along with It’s Not Funny I Don’t Know Why I’m Laughing (all works 2019), a sculpture of six (!) sawn-off clay fingers—were seven paintings, three of them depicting blank canvases tilted against the background, their surfaces painted in lush pastel tones but empty all the same. In Too Old Too Fast, the foreground is littered with what seem to be paper cups, creating the impression that someone has been standing in front of the canvas for a long time, downing drink after drink, without producing a single brushstroke. In other works, blank notebooks and what looked like reference books were spread across tables, or neatly arranged, as in Show-in-Show. They were a reminder of the fact that Hiorthøy’s works, however impressive his rate of production, have never been about bravado. The forthcoming monograph, for instance, will include not only his celebrated record covers for the Smalltown Supersound label, his published children’s book illustrations, and so on, but also rejected work, unfinished sketches, and glimpses of failed projects. This exhibition, too, touched upon the difficulties and perhaps the inherent loneliness of a creative process. The paradox, of course, was that the paintings themselves are really quite successful, their workmanship exuding more confidence than their subject matter might suggest. Impeccably composed and with delicately balanced color schemes, they are not the indexical tracings of a self-doubting artist but rather the product of someone who understands that one doesn’t need to know the route in order to have a sense of direction.