Things I’ve thought while painting

While studying at the Art Academy in Umeå, I found a book about the Norwegian landscape painter Peder Balke (1804-1887). Or was it on the internet? I thought a lot about Peder Balke for a while. I saw his exhibition at the National Gallery in London, and wrote a letter of admiration to the curator. He replied that, in his later period, Balke stopped using brushes and instead pushed around the paint with fingers, rags and palette knives, and to create northern lights in his paintings, he scratched through the paint with a hair comb! A hair comb!!

Symbolist painters used the landscape as an allegory of their feelings. The self-expressive act was also emphasized in readings of early abstract painting, where the paint becomes traces of the artist's inner state. In the works of Japanese painter Kazuo Shiraga, the paint is a trace of the artist's outside. While hanging on a rope he stirs the paint around with his feet. You can see trails from his toes through pastose layers of paint. Or is it all the same? The inside and the outside, a shell with filling. A fairly stable and solid shell, though sometimes with cracks and holes, where the black-red sludge pours out.

There should be more time. At least 400 years. I'm already 31.

When I was a teenager I lived with my parents in the countryside. We had a horse who loved to be in the water. If she spotted a puddle she rushed over to lay down in it. Before we knew about this passion of hers, I had taken her for a ride far away from the farm. The horse became very sweaty so I let her drink from a small lake in the forest. But the horse, who loved water, threw herself into the lake with me on her back. This was a kind of swamplike, ”bottomless" lake, (that I had been afraid of and avoided throughout my childhood due to the movie "The NeverEnding Story" *) and the horse lost its balance, managed to turn upside down as I was stuck underneath the horse. She kicked and twitched for a moment, then turned around and somehow got out of the water. I have thought a lot about that brief moment that I was stuck there, between the muddy bottom and the horse. It's a rather strange place to be for a human.

In the early stages of Facebook, I wrote a status update that stated: "Tonight I dreamt that I was giving birth on the Isle of the Dead" **. My professor in painting, Ann Edholm, commented: "Spot on". I wondered what that meant. The fetal membrane bursts and the water flows, out over the dead. The body as a portal between two worlds.

Eventually, when you die, your heart will stop. You may lie flat on your back. All the blood seeps down towards the ground, due to the gravity of the earth. Dark spots appear where the blood accumulates. Four hours after your death, the rigor mortis sets in. It makes your fingers bend. But after a few days, you'll be soft again. The decay begins in the stomach, where most of the bacteria is. Then the rot spreads throughout the body.

I paint now. Mostly large paintings. The canvas lies on the floor when I work. At times I have them on the wall as well. And sometimes I have them partly on the wall, partly on floor so that I may reach the very top. They are large unstretched canvases that I drag around the studio. They are clumsy and awkward, my body is never long enough. The consistency of the paint is important. It should be gelatinous and transparent. I smear it out, scratch lines with fingernails, wipe out light with rags and scrapers and apply thick layers that later coagulate into lumpy scabs. I do not think that much about different colors anymore, mostly just darkness and light, as when drawing with charcoal.

- Julia Selin

* The NeverEnding Story, orig. Die Unendliche Geschichte, a film based on the novel of the same name by Michael Ende, 1984.

** Isle of the Dead, painting by Arnold Böcklin, 1880-1886.