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Contemporary art from Sweden

Swedish art - along with Scandinavian practice in general - has, until recently, proved one of the great unknowns of the contemporary art scene.

Now there are signs that this is changing, with collectors, curators and critics eager to investigate (and extol) the merits of a slice of the global art market that's been inexplicably overlooked.

Mike Brennan casts his own eye over some of Sweden's little-known artists with big potential.


Charlotte Walentin

Swedish contemporary artists - Charlotte Walentin

Although a prominent figure in her homeland, Charlotte Walentin - in keeping with most of the artists featured here - is little known outside Scandinavia.

Walentin established herself in the early noughties with intricate figurative drawings. These gradually became more conceptual in nature while losing none of their visual complexity (her 'film' drawings, for example, consist of associative marks produced incessantly during a chosen movie - below).

Swedish art - Charlotte Walentin
Swedish art - Charlotte Walentin

In recent years, Walentin has further expanded this practice through a signature use of thin nylon cord dipped into paint or laquer. The resulting, heavily-textured threads are employed in a kind of sculptural mark-making, configured into pieces that either partially mimic wall-based paintings or erupt into three dimensional space.

Pleasurable yet repulsive in their apparent viscosity, Walentin's works are the result of a two-tiered production process, an intriguing assemblage of paint itself.

Swedish art now - Charlotte Walentin
Charlotte Walentin - new contemporary artists from Sweden


Gunnel WŚhlstrand

Swedish contemporary artists - Gunnel WŚhlstrand (detail)

WŚhlstrand's astonishingly accomplished photo-realistic paintings are based on old snapshots taken, for the most part, before she was even born.

Her large-scale works in Indian ink generally feature images of her father, or places and people with whom he was closely associated. The fact that he committed suicide when she was just one year old converts WŚhlstrand's obsession with the past into a forensic and urgent exercise.

Gunnel WŚhlstrand -  contemporary artists from Sweden

The intensity of this undertaking is reflected in the research processes that frequently accompany her work.

By visiting locations featured in the snaps, or tracking down copies of books or magazines that appear in the images, WŚhlstrand takes her production far beyond the usual translation of photograph into painting.

Yet even without knowledge of this diligence - or the tragic circumstances that inform it - her paintings possess extraordinary gravitas and presence.

Imposingly large (and for works in ink, exceptionally so), WŚhlstrand's scaled-up reproductions are exceedingly labour-intensive, fraught with technical challenge due to the fast-drying nature of a medium that leaves little room for error. As the artist has stated, "The procedure is like that of developing photographs - the slow process is a way of further enhancing the memory."

The documentary immediacy of photorealism coupled with the antithetical distancing of its black and white mode - the "departure from reality" noted by Susan Sontag - exerts an obvious sense of displacement and melancholy; a familiar enough phenomenon and technique, but one that's painfully apt with regard to WŚhlstrand's territory of personal loss.

Already regarded as a key figure within Swedish contemporary art, WŚhlstrand's production is extremely limited, making her paintings keenly sought by collectors. It's a reputation that, frankly, looks set to soar.

Swedish art now: Gunnel WŚhlstrand
Contemporary art from Sweden - Gunnel WŚhlstrand

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