“The briefest and slipperiest of the seasons, the one that won't be held to account - because summer won't be held at all, except in bits, fragments, moments, flashes of memory of so-called or imagined perfect summers, summers that never existed,” Ali Smith, Summer
Bare pink bodies lounge on candy coloured towels and beneath parasols on the beach, while long water-slides twist through lush tropical landscapes. These latest paintings by Audun Alvestad blur the edges between reality, dream and memory to evoke a complex, sensual expression of summer. Playfully entitled Tan Lines, the artist’s latest exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery explores the season as a feeling rather than a specific place or moment in time, presenting a curious tension between distance and intimacy, indifference and longing.
After a period of isolation, the Lisbon-based, Norwegian artist recalls hearing suitcases being wheeled across cobblestones and was struck by the distinctiveness of the sound and its ability to conjure up a vivid reel of images and memories. He began to think about what a holiday means as a concept, how we delineate a period of time, establish expectations, wear different clothes and perform certain activities or even identities. As such, all of the paintings possess a kind of universality - we recognise the settings and the patterns of behaviour, but they do not describe individual places or people. This has the effect of allowing us, as the viewer, to perceive and understand the works through the filter of our own experience, but at the same time, we’re held at a distance as a witness rather than a participant.
Although Alvestad’s work is often characterised by a cinematic or even slightly voyeuristic perspective in which we are given glimpses into intimate, domestic scenes, these latest paintings are both more expansive and gentler than previous works. This is partly due to the soft, pastel colours that evoke the appearance of sun-bleached surfaces, but also a result of the focus on exterior spaces. The beach paintings, for example, are populated with numerous bodies and towels and yet, the sand seems to stretch endlessly, conveying a sense of both physical and mental space that relates to wider notions around holidays as a time (and place) of ease, languor and sensuality.
In a similar way, Alvestad borrows the setting of a water-park to evoke an experience of fun and play, but while we recognise the scene, it is romanticised to the point of being dream-like and surreal. Water-parks can be noisy and busy, and nowadays, often appear in a gradual state of deterioration, but in Alvestad’s paintings people float quietly and peacefully along vibrantly coloured slides that curve through lush forests, or extend from great heights, seemingly continuing beyond the edges of the canvas. Silence pervades even in the works where splashes of water erupt from the surface or bodies slip speedily down steep flumes.
Some scenes appear to occur late in the day, when the sky is turning various shades of pink and orange and shadows are long, while others are flattened by the glare of the sun. In one painting, a figure is frozen, at the moment just before they drop from the end of a slide, while elsewhere a man reaches his hand up to catch a frisbee in the sea. Time is paused, and with it comes a creeping sense of foreboding that anticipates the end of a moment and the inevitable experience of loss. In this way, we find ourselves caught not only in the image of the painting, but in our own vivid and unsettling flashes of memory.