Friday, February 27, 2004

The Importance of Being Odd

The Importance of Being Odd: Nerdrum's Challenge to Modernism

By Paul A. Cantor

The Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum is one of the greatest painters of the century. Unfortunately, according to his detractors, the century in question is the seventeenth. Thus Nerdrum has emerged as one of the most controversial artists of our day. His admirers praise him for his superb Old Master technique, while his critics condemn him as hopelessly reactionary. His work calls into question all our customary narratives about art history, and especially the modernist dogma that the artist can be creative only by turning his back on the past.

Nerdrum has openly acknowledged his debt to the Old Masters. He uses heavy layers of paint to create chiaroscuro effects reminiscent of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, and he also continually recalls the achievement of the great Italian and Dutch painters in his ability to capture the texture of things on canvas -- from shiny metals to rich fabrics. Above all, he knows how to convey every shade of human flesh. And yet the subject matter of Nerdrum's works is usually enough to place him in the modern world. His dark palette seems to underwrite a disturbing vision of the end of civilization as we know it. For those who have not seen Nerdrum's paintings, I try to describe them this way: imagine the result if Rembrandt had painted the sets of The Road Warrior...

Cantor at Artcyclopedia

Paul A. Cantor is a Shakespearean scholar and professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books, including Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization.

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