On the upper edge of the paper is evidence that Bjarne Melgaard has ripped it out of a sketchbook, one page after another, within a relatively short time span. One pictorial idea followed the next, the white paper providing such a tempting stage for appearances by man, woman, dog, and so on. Something about this is odd, though; the drawings do not necessarily represent anything, but rather allow the motifs to appear. Drawing as performance. And through this approach, time enters the artist’s practice. Boredom and melancholy, self-exploration and futile wishes become visible without being expressly represented. In contrast to a diary, however, what now appears here is the usually invisible network of motivations and desires. A lot changes, but the core remains: a core whose despair, seriousness, and existential dimension is presented as a game of child-like innocence.
The flow of images is interrupted by two pieces. On one the word “STRENGTH” is written, on the other “TEMPERANCE.” Melgaard inserts these allegories into his cycle of figures as stopping points, following in the old iconographic tradition — in this case, executed in colored pencil. A female personification of the world appears, alluding to a conceptual space that is far-reaching. Even one of the preeminent Nordic goddesses, Freya, is referenced in the dog’s name. But what seems to offer the most help in this melancholic solitude are not the abstract ideas, but rather the imaginary conversation with the dog. Is the love of animals the only thing that ultimately remains? What Freya the dog is to Melgaard is what Andy Warhol’s cats were to him; even stylistically, both drawings are reminiscent of children’s books, in which the unlikely can become real.
Melgaard makes do with contours and crosshatching. Warhol, too, removed any handwriting-like quality from the drawings and focused on ornament. But both artists understand how to turn the seemingly amateurish and imitated into the personal, which becomes unmistakable. Unlike Warhol, Melgaard has a trace of art brut, an unruliness that simultaneously insists on deviation. This quality is most evident in the depiction of his bearded head. Its mixture of human and animalistic features, emphasized by the blackness of his rendering, establishes boundaries. Here, lines are crossed, to the danger of thinking and feeling. Not only time or the paper have holes; the motifs are also permeable.
Translation: Wilhelm Werthern
Bjarne Melgaard (Norwegian) was born in 1967 in Sydney, Australia and lives and works in New York. In 2011 Bjarne Melgaard represented Norway in the Biennale di Venezia and has had numerous solo exhibitions in Museums, including the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, Munch Museum Oslo, as well as in the Whitney Biennial and the Biennial in Lyon. In 2016 the first comprehensive monograph of Bjarne Melgaard was published by Skira Rizzoli.
His work has entered the collections of numerous museums and collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Munch Museum, Oslo, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, MARTa Herford Museum and the Rubell Family Collection, Miami.