Finding Apollo - Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene’s paintings 2004-2006

Martin Worts

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.
Douglas Hofstadter

The pictures in this exhibition are the result of two years work, in one sense this can be called a site specific installation of the artist’s paintings. Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene is very aware of the challenges of this particular gallery space – a dominant architecture far removed from the “white cube” galleries that normally house abstract art so well.

Visiting this artist in her studio and talking about her paintings, one is struck by the very physical way Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene talks about her working day. A canvas is first laid on the floor, a somewhat chaotic application of colour is applied, and, nothing is planned. Then, with the passage of time and the application of multiple layers of paint, order is applied. The artist builds up these ‘skins’ of paint by painting and washing away repeatedly. On occasion the addition of wax in the mixture increases the friction and texture amongst the collected layers of paint. The artist explains that it is important to understand that her painting varies according to “who I am that day”. Her personality thus becomes revealed from day to day, this reminded me of Clyfford Still who only allowed his work to be shown together as a diary, never separated.

A great free joy surges through me when I work... with tense slashes and a few thrusts the beautiful white fields receive their colour and the work is finished in a few minutes.
Clyfford Still

However Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene’s work is never this rapid, her working process takes long periods of time. The painting’s layered surface becomes an archaeological excavation; scratches into the surface reveal layers of chronological activity.
Recent works can be divided into two distinct groups, one dominated by light & colourful works, and a second group of more forbidding dark paintings. The contrast is enjoyable, as one approaches the works they either resemble darkly lit rooms where one must search for contents, or, they are framed over-lit spaces where one cannot see what’s there. Too little or too much light; herein lays the challenge to the viewer. It is in Greek mythology that the solution to this challenge can be found.

There are two attributes of the Greek god Apollo that are important to bear in mind when looking at Eiene’s colour-field paintings: firstly he was god of light, and secondly, Apollo acquired wisdom through the learning of patience. It is the physical properties of light and it’s ever changing nature that allow the seemingly banal surface of a colour-field painting to exhibit a protean power of life. However the transient and multifaceted nature of colour produced by the properties of light, only become clear if time is given to observation. Patience and calm, Apollo’s route to wisdom, are required if this type of painting is going to be fully appreciated by the viewer.

Chaos & order – finding a balance

Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene’s pencil drawings are detailed, controlled and delicate. They are completely different from the oil & wax colour-field paintings in this exhibition. But painting as an action is completely different from drawing with a pencil; there is something rougher and more aggressive in the physical activity of a painter. This painter attacks and digs into the wax contents whilst it dries, she washes paint away with turpentine, to reapply and rework further. One can say that this working technique is a balancing act between chaos and order, between chance and logical structures. Often Eiene scratches the paint surface as a final application of order – a grid to steady the underlying composition.

Then I saw
How order might--if chaos wished--become:
And saw the darkness crush upon itself,
Contracting powerfully; it was as if 
It killed itself: slowly: and with much pain.
Pain. The scene was pain, and nothing but pain.
What else, when chaos draws all forces inward
To shape a single leaf?...

From The Room by Conrad Aiken 

But beauty, where is the beauty? Colour-field painting during the twentieth century became one of the most meditative and beautiful of the Modernist painting disciplines. Pollock, Rothko and Newmann produced some of the most poetic and tragic contemplative art of their century. 
Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene’s exhibition is of a similarly large format, these are big paintings showing fields of colour. A simple equation can be made: that chaos is ugly and order is beautiful. But this artist obviously finds something attractive in the chaotic; she even has an attraction toward ugliness. Therefore a simple equation will not do. Apollo’s task was to find truth, to assert logic and thus defeat Dionysian chaos. However the Greeks knew this was impossible; that chaos must always exist in order to inspire creativity. 

Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge. Winston Churchill

As a viewer, I prefer to focus on the “personalities” of these paintings. The living quality of their colours, produced by light’s natural variation, gives an intimate and intense meeting with the physicality of paint, and, the various mood possibilities of colour. When describing a friend’s personality we often use adjectives based on their physical presence and emotional moods. A close viewing of these canvasses, a prolonged contemplation of their varying moods, can lead to a similar vocabulary to describe these beautiful, ugly paintings.

Some artists, when seeing an early work after a long absence, describe the event as similar to meeting an old friend: Time and gathering age has either treated them well, or, badly. Snøfrid Hunsbedt Eiene has made many good friends for this exhibition. These pictures show a balancing of chaos and order, and, an understanding of Apollo’s impossible task.

Martin Worts
Rogaland Kunstsenter