Odd Nerdrum

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Twentieth century had seen a great number of artists in multiple regions of the world. One that truly stands out in that era is the versatile Odd Nerdrum. He is a Norwegian figurative painter known for his meticulous details in his work which was primarily inspired by the iconic artists like Rembrandt and Caravaggio. He takes ordinary objects from everyday life and breathes life into them with his extraordinary vision. He self-claimed his artwork more of a kitsch than art as usually perceived. Besides, Nerdrum is the man who inspired The Kitsch Movement among those of followed his work.

During the World War II, Odd Nerdrum was born in Sweden, in 1944. His parents were Resistance fighters, who moved from Norway to Sweden at that time. When they returned Norway, his parents divorced which led to Nerdrum’s rough years as a child. His mother moved to New York to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology, while his father remarried. These circumstances in his life fostered feeling of abandonment, rejection and loneliness. Later in his life found out after his father’s death that he was not his biological father but the notable architect David Sandved was his real father. This discovery led to Nerdrum’s preoccupation with personal identity and origin, which is palpable in his artwork.

Art Academy of Oslo was one of the places where Nerdrum received his art education. However, he grew dissatisfied with the modern art orientation. Rembrandt’s technique and work acted as a core influence on his own work as taught himself a Neo Baroque style. He found his muse in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm when he came across The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis. He described the experience of seeing that inspiring painting as “finding home”. Moreover, if it wasn’t for that painting, he believed that he would have end up poor. Two years later, he was chased from the academy as his work had been in complete defiance to the artwork of his time.

Another remarkable influence on his work was of Caravaggio. Again Nerdrum couldn’t help being inspired by the intensity of his psychologically inspired work. He was strongly taken with cross lightening that sharpens the features, the three dimensions his work demonstrated, and showcasing of ordinary people as the subject of his work.

In addition to that, Nerdrum was into visionary literature penned by the eminent literary figures of that time like the mystical Swedenborg, the dark Dostoyevsky, Rudolf Steiner and the prophetic William Blake. His enthusiasm for prophetic visionary literature stimulated his vertical sensibility unlike the linear sensibility preferred by revolutionary Marxist artists. His experience and disillusionment of modern art and inspiration drawn from classic work came together to create Refugees At Sea. It was later deemed by Nerdrum himself a naïve attempt as it tried to show the goodness in mankind. The excessive sentimentality portrayed in the work seemed ‘cloying’ to him afterwards.

The latter half of his career reached its zenith in 1981, when he unveiled his painting, Twilight. The painting shows a stark change from deep sentimentality to a rather raw, unvarnished and unembellished view of life. Unlike his Refugees At Sea his paintings featured a single subject. It would evoke a cosmic oneness without disrupting the stillness and transcending the individuality. His subjects are usually adorned with furs, skins, leather caps offering them a timeless air to them.

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