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Reflections on the Nerdrum School, Part 2

“‘Tis a cold and stormy night by the north sea. I can feel the walls shaking in the wind. Masterpieces lurk in the darkness below, oblivious to the storm. How quickly they have become objects to navigate on the way to elsewhere.”

“The morning after the storm the skies are washed clear as a white milky blue. The grasses are heavy with the remnants of frost and the rocks sit like seals which have basked in the sun, the moon, the waves and the ice for millennia. Roedvik Gaard is the name of this place, fingers of stone trailing into the sea, knuckles of sandstone and marble littering the shore. And further back a tower, tucked into the trees. There a dreamer wanders, from canvas to canvas, from shadow to shadow, from light to light.”

Diary entries 15th & 16th August, Roedvik Gaard, Norway


It is one of life’s ironies that the truly remarkable can become almost ordinary with familiarity. Waking up in the ‘tower’ room (a very beautiful loft above the studios) I would step down to the studio, navigating my way past masterpieces on my way to the bathroom. This familiarity would subsequently be countered by sudden waves of “oh my God, that is incredible”, followed by lots of close study. As a student of the Nerdrum School one is truly fortunate to be surrounded by Odd’s work, both finished and unfinished pieces, both large canvases and oil sketches for now-famous paintings. Odd allows and encourages complete access to his work, and most importantly to himself as he works.

During my first weeks at Roedvik Gaard (or Memorosa) painting would continue in the student studio into the early hours, with Jeremy, Renus and Natalia willing the dream to continue until they dropped. The morning would be a slow awakening, a flask of coffee and an icy jug of water for Odd’s studio the first order of business. For myself this was often preceded by a long walk along the rocks by the sea. August was pristine: clear skies, mid 20s punctuated by occasional storms. Bliss!

From between 10 and 11 the studio work would begin. For us students this consisted mainly of portrait and still life studies, as all work needed to be done from life. With Odd’s arrival there would often be time for discussion in his studio, in view of several large works in progress that Odd was wrestling with. These discussions were very illuminating and I recall being surprised at how many of the ‘moderns’ Odd reveres, an apparent contradiction with his very anti-modernist stance. From my diary on the 17th of August:

“Surprisingly Odd seems to be as much inspired by Carriere and Munch as by anything Baroque. He knows the ‘moderns’ very well and likes quite a few of them, including Klimt and Schiele. But Chagall he really dislikes.”

This should not be so surprising, however, as in his work it is always the vibration of life that Odd is reaching for. One of his favourite exhortations is “shoot in the middle!”, and this exactly what he admires in (early) Munch, Carriere, and the others, that they found and formed deep and clear feeling through powerful composition. But, for Odd, the link to perceptual reality needs to be strongly intact. Chagall’s departures from the real are too much for him.

I have consolidated my own thinking on ‘vibration’ and perceptual expression in the following formulation:

Composition is the Source / Vibration is the Spirit / Illusion is the the Dream

The source of all power is composition/ The spirit of all expression is vibration/ The dream of all reality is illusion.

Illusion alone begets a narrative; it is seductive but weak. Drawn with a strong vibration it becomes compelling, but poorly composed, remains lost. Powerfully composed and with strong vibration the illusion, and thus the narrative, is amplified into eternal and subconscious spaces.

Odd’s emphasis on the vibration of things (not in those words) was brought home to me through feedback he gave me on my painting ‘Crow Light’. “In many ways”, he said, “the bird is the best part of the picture.” In painting the crow I allowed it to be almost in several half scrubbed out positions at once, creating a strong sense of movement. I spent days and weeks on the human figure and probably a single hour on that crow.

“Crow Light”, oil on linen 2017


To be continued…