Painting the North

Kaare Espolin Johnson (1907-1994) depicted the nature and culture of northern Norway better than any other artist I know. He would typically start with a black surface, then scratch white lines in the pigment, and sometimes overlay this with paint and further lines. The result was dramatic: oddly dark and atmospheric, maybe even a bit eerie, but undeniably strong. The unusual technique sprang from a lifetime of poor eyesight, rendering his world in lights against shadow, rather than shadow against light.

I have visited galleries containing his work on several occasions, and have always come away with a sense of awe. Perhaps unintended, I have also left with the sensation of secrets and undercurrents, of history and stories untold. There is something visceral about the paintings that makes me want to pick up the pen and start writing.

It may be due to superimposing white on black rather than the converse, but these paintings tickle my love for horror. Not in the sense that I think they depict horror – they do not – but from a feeling of seeing things the wrong way around. It is that unusual, almost uncanny, quality that resonates with me. The uncanny is staple fare of horror fiction, and typically linked to representations of the self. Ghosts, twins, dolls, even zombies – they may all inhabit the uncanny valley. With Espolin Johnson, however, it is not the depicted humans or scenes I find uncanny, but the observer. Me. When I look at these paintings, it is my gaze that is the wrong way around. I find that much more interesting.


The most amazing bookstore in Oslo

The most amazing bookstore in Oslo is surely Eldorado. It’s the sort of place I could happily spend hours and hours, walking between the shelves or sitting quietly in a corner. The building was a theatre up until 1911, when it became a cinema, and it stayed a cinema until 2012, when it turned into a bookstore offering free coffee (black, filter), plush chairs and more than 3000m2 of books. It’s got nooks and crannies aplenty mixed with big open spaces, and even stages and seating preserved from its cinema days. And everywhere there‚Äôs books. Not just your standard best-sellers, but pretty much everything, organised by publishing house. Effectively, the publishing houses ‘rent’ a shelf in the bookstore to display their books, which makes for very interesting browsing. And to top it all off, the creperie by the entrance serves really nice food.