Artist's Favourites by Matias Faldbakken

 Lars Hertervig  Coastal Landscape with mountains and boats,  1856 Watercolour on paper  Photo: Dag Myrestrand / Bitmap
 Screen shot from the 4Chan website
 Cover image from Hard Er Mitt Lands Love, 2011
 Still from Agnes Martin  Interview , 1997
 Hans Holberin the Younger Portrait of Sir Thomas Elyot , 1532–34 Chalk, pen and brush on pink-primed paper  

Matias Faldbakken, born in 1973, first became known as a writer, thanks to his 2001 novel The Cocka Hola Company, which inaugurated the »Scandinavian Misanthropy« trilogy. The open social critique in his writing is counterbalanced by the deliberate hermeticism of his art, in which found materials are worked into what the artist calls »negativistic gestures« in versions of sculpture, readymade, and painting. His works often use materials from construction or logistics, as in a recent series of flattened and framed cardboard boxes. The »aesthetic products« in his exhibitions are, Faldbakken has said, »the side effects of an artistic strategy that engages readily available possibilities of disengagement«.Here he selects five artists and writers whose work he admires.


Works on paper, late nineteenth century

Stricken with mental illness while a promising student in Düsseldorf, this Norwegian artist returned to his native Stavanger region in 1865 and lived in poverty for the remainder of his life. Although he could no longer afford oil paint, Hertervig painted in watercolour and gouache on wrapping paper, tobacco paper and pieces of cloth that he assembled with rye glue. Religious hallucinations, surreal visions, Quaker silence (he came from a Quaker background), and a particular sensitivity to light feed into his idiosyncratic Romantic landscapes, which are all executed with a sclerotic Turneresque finesse.

*1830 at Borgøy, †1902 in Stavanger





»By Far the Worst Thing…«, n. d.

A certain category of writing is posted from time to time on the notorious online imageboard 4chan. The texts usually start with a »biographical« story that twists into a reference to something completely different, often a song. Sometimes »Anon« comes up with gems like this one:





Hard Er Mitt Lands Lov

(Hard Is the Law of My Land), 2011

Tore Kvæven, a teacher from Sirdal in the south of Norway, has written an epic about a Viking raid up the Congo river around the year 1000. The Greenlander Ulfr takes over the Norwegian ship Havjerven and drags a big crew of Scandinavians into the depths of unexplored Africa. Unsurprisingly, what appears to be a hunt for gold and glory turns out to be a well-designed quest for revenge. A veritable page-turner that is part historical narrative, part thriller, part fantasy novel, part Heart of Darkness-meets-Norse-wet-dream, the book is crafted in a textured, almost archaic Norwegian language, with a staggering attention to detail.

*1969, lives in Sirdal





Interview, 1997

In Chuck Smith and Sono Kuwayama’s 1997 interview with Agnes Martin (viewable online), the 85-year-old American painter talks about the importance of having a vacant mind. She says that it is crucial not to have ideas, that she paints what is without cause; that you cannot think about the rest of them when you are painting. And that she paints with her back to the world; nothing goes through her head. »The best things in life happen to you when you are alone.« All this is punctuated with her chewing-gum chewing and repetitively smacking her lips – at times it almost sounds like she is speaking a Khoisan click-language from South Africa.

*1912 in Canada, †2004 in New Mexico





Portrait drawings, ca. 1520s–1543

When I was a teenager (I think in 1993) I saw a show of Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait drawings at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Ever since I have considered them some of the richest portraits I know of. Last winter I saw them all again at the archives of Windsor Castle where they are stored (thanks to Katharine Burton who got me in). In the flesh the drawings appear as an incomprehensible mix of hypersensitive portraiture and machine-like renderings of faces. Questions of authorship pile up under the (his?) mixing of media: who was responsible for the chalk, the pen, the ink, the metal point, the final stage of brushwork? And to what extent did the contouring have a double function? It could have been added both for capturing the facial similarity of the model and for transferring the motive to canvas. The way the highest artistry in these drawings is inseparable from purely technical solutions gives them an unresolvedness that makes them continually fresh. (Add that Holbein drew, say, Thomas More and the architect of More’s execution, Thomas Cromwell, with the same sensitivity-cum distance, and you have an enigma.)

*1498 in Augsburg, †1543 in London




Matias Faldbakken​ is based in Oslo.