Markus Åkesson

Fanny Ginies 2015

This is a text from the book ”Markus Åkesson- Paintings, 2015”

 

Over the past four years, Swedish painter Markus Åkesson has given birth to an enigmatic body of work in which logic defying stories occur in silence.

The atmosphere in his figurative paintings is dense and poetic and the characters seem engaged in dissonant scenarios where time is suspended. Indifferent to the world’s uproar, they reveal their meditative loneliness, appearing to be the only ones capable of foiling the metaphysical drama which is developing inside and around them.

While dusk seems to be his time of predilection, the artist likes to represent these limit moments where the eye struggles to perceive shapes, but also where what we regard as tangible proves to be uncertain, even imagined. It is in this slightly indistinct interstice that he prefers to evolve, methodically putting in motion a reversal of appearances game. Little by little, he takes us away from reality and carries us to the domains of the transitional and the hallucinatory, thus exploring themes like parasomnia, illusion or the descent to a parallel reality.

Both singular and obsessive, these pictorial topics place the experience of the twilight zone in any form whatsoever, at the heart of the painter’s work. Visions from lucid dreaming, children at the threshold of adult age, searchers at the threshold of knowledge, corpses at the threshold of life. Beneath his fluid and inspired brushstrokes, Markus Åkesson paints frontier canvases, mental landscapes floating at the edge of dreaming, as well as at the edge of death or the invisible.

In The Room of Life and Death, for instance, a little girl with opal skin carefully observes the fox that’s jumping before her eyes, mouth wide open and claws out, as it tries to catch the podgy pheasant flying in front of him. In the background, the presence of a wooden- marquetry wall instantly transforms our perception of the piece: despite all its vivacity, this hunting scene is not really happening and the animals, stuffed in all likelihood, only offer an illusion of life. Therefore this piece of work, which per se is a deceptive representation of reality according to the Platonician definition of mimêsis, just allows us to see an imitation of nature in motion, embodied by this impressive taxidermy… A picture within the picture.

A master of double game, Åkesson alters and transforms the viewer’s perception of reality, making of the latter a voyeur-witness of sometimes familiar, sometimes properly phantasmal scenes. The mysterious nature of his paintings stems on one part from the particular composition and lightning, reminiscent of cinema, and on another part from their emotionally-charged atmosphere, that conveys a great sense of the uncanny, as conceptualized by Freud in his eponymous psychoanalysis essay(1).

Doesn’t the impression of suspense, which the viewer can almost experience physically, emanate specifically from the cinematic qualities of the artworks? When questioned on this subject, the painter willingly concedes that he sees his paintings as stills extracted from films. The implemented narrative devices, the bitterness of his images remind of David Lynch – great master of bizarre to quote only the best known example!, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, the film Morse by Tomas Alfredson or  Melancholia by Lars Von Trier. Just like in these directors’ creations, the painter captures one’s attention with shivers and makes the unexpected loom by the side of reality. De facto, if he flips one by one through the multiple layers of his character’s inner life, he gives no clue as for their further actions and the occurring enigma then seems insolvable.

In the style of the Renaissance painters who used a highly cryptic iconography, Åkesson slips a great number of symbols of the complex transitional state he likes to explore in his paintings: water as an enveloping membrane which allows the crossing from one world to the other [Black Pond, The Passage], moths as forerunners of a shift from a state of consciousness to a state of hypnagogia [Insomnia (The Bakers House, Insomnia (Mayuko), The Woods (Insomnia), The Woods], or painted faces as an expression of prescience for the young girls of the Psychopomp Club, modern-day Pythias who come to deliver their sombre message to mankind.

As we let ourselves bewitch by the magnetic charm of these paintings, we delight in recounting their line of descent with the great artistic tradition of Old Europe. Presenting a certain naturalist objectivity, the artist shows an interest in the classical genre of still life and vanitas, that he revisits in the light of his own obsessions. The animal skulls, skeletons and anatomical models are recurring subjects that he stages in minimalist compositions where the object seems chosen for its scientific and plastic qualities, more than its usual symbolism as for the inevitable demise of all beings.

Here and there, thematic analogies appear also with the works of Symbolists, Surrealists or that of Magic Realism. Nevertheless, as Åkesson’s paintings never fully stray from their connection to reality, they prove to be closer to Romantic productions, with models like Caspar David Friedrich for painting, Novalis or E.T.A Hoffmann for literature. These artists, like Åkesson, depict cerebral worlds where the soul lays bare and comprehend nature as a mirror for imagination. «Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye», once wrote Friedrich(2). «Then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards.»

Through his sibylline portraits, Åkesson casts an introspective look upon the persona. But we also perceive in his work a fascination for the outside, the natural order and cosmos. In the Black Pond and The Woods series, for example, we see the beauty of the dense Scandinavian forests where the fauna and the flora stand alongside the humans’ realm. The dusky-colored aquatic and vegetal elements, the muddy peat lands and the small ponds deep in the woods, form a hymn to Nature and to Nordic legends.

However, we are not confronted here to a peaceful Nature offering its overwhelming beauty to contemplation. These paintings, on the contrary, give evidence of forces hidden in the dark, that we feel on the move, that we imagine alarming. A whole symbolism of rites of passage materializes in Åkesson‘s nocturnal landscapes, and we sense the initiatory importance of those suspended moments, through a story that is not told but only suggested by the artist. There lies his skill.

(1) Sigmund Freud, Das Unheimliche, 1919

(2) Caspard David Friedrich,, 1830

Observations on Viewing a Collection of Paintings Largely by

Living or Recently Deceased Artists

Fanny Giniès (b. 1986 in Paris) is a French art critic and historian specialized in modern and contemporary art. A freelance journalist from 2010 to 2013, she covered exhibitions and conducted many artists and curators interviews for the press (Joel-Peter Witkin, Joe Coleman, the Tim Burton exhibition at La Cinémathèque française, the HEY! Modern Art & Pop Culture exhibition at the Museum of La Halle Saint-Pierre, etc.). In 2011, she launched an arts and culture website featuring show reports, artists studio visits and interviews (http://roughdreams.fr). She has also contributed to several exhibition catalogues (Benjamin Lacombe, Memories, 2013) and artists monographs (Nicoletta Ceccoli, Day Dreams, 2013. Ciou, Collected Works, 2014. Kerascoët, Paper Dolls, 2014). Since 2013, she works at the Galerie Da-End in Paris.