Francesca Gavin on Ida Ekblad

Published in Reconstruction 重建
Fluids & Karma International, Sep 17 – Oct 30, 2021

Plaster is one of humanity’s most ancient building techniques, innately connected to the process of construction. There is evidence of pre-man using mud to plaster reed shelters, screen against weather and animals. Plaster was used in the Egyptian pyramids, the walls floors and ceilings of the Ain Ghazal in Jordan 7500 years ago, throughout the Roman empire. This layered material was made from varied materials including crushed stone, gypsum, lime, sand and marble dust. Somehow this ancient material also echoes the history of painting and the layering of pigment, dirt and oil. The layered, chaotically patterned and coloured paintings that form a large part of Ida Ekblad’s practice somehow echo that that history. Yet here, her materials, influences and aesthetics are pulled from the very contemporary, the domestic, the art historical and the pop cultural. All are layered to form a very personal and recognizable visual language.

The Norwegian artist has also worked with sculpture, performance, film, installation, music and curation, yet it all somehow emerges through her deeply textured works on canvas. One of the materials that is innately hers is a kind of puffy textile paint, popular in the 1980s and 1990s. It was often a DIY material for children or teenagers to make their own clothes. In Ekblad’s work this puffy paint which mushrooms and bulges in reaction to heat creates a sense of something equally organic and deeply synthetic. Even when not used this material, her approach to layering oil paint and pure pigment has a strong sense of impasto. It is like the viewer’s eyes can feel her paintings as well as read them. 

It is impossible to look at Ekblad’s work without discussing her palette. The artist intentionally seems to resist an established colour scheme, mixing and creating contrasts that recall late 20th century graphics more than painting. Chrome yellow, acrid purple, a plastic shade of blue, carnation red – Ekblad is unafraid of using combinations that jar and explode. Her work has been described as “polychromatic”, to reflect the way she combines frequencies, a term also used in physics to describe electromagnetic radiation. She somehow uses colour in a post-nuclear, post-plastic way. Her colours combinations could not quite exist outside of the context of now.

Ida Ekblad, OUR LADY OCELOT and RAZOR, RAZORS, RAZOR (2021), courtesy the artist, photo by Annik Wetter

Ekblad once said that “futurism is often found in the rear-view mirror’. That sums up how her modern aesthetic also owes a clear debt to the history of abstraction and the avant garde, from Paul Thek to Helen Frankenthaler, Edvard Munch to Rammellzee. However, in a more direct way, Ekblad also draws from her own work as a archive to rework and reconstruct pattern, shape and form. Echoes of different works emerge in subsequent paintings. A particularly jagged line, for example, that almost feels like early graffiti, but is far from it. She echoes the way those underground artists who create a ‘sparkling’ star, or outline a letterform. The artist seems to be constantly reworking pattern into new forms, cropping in, turning things upside down, fragments and readjusting. A stylized, uneven take on leopard print for example comes in different ways. 

Despite its clear contemporary aesthetic, Ekblad has also positioned her work in the context of a Scandinavian history. She has curated works from the Christen Sveaas Art Foundation for the Whitechapel Gallery, for example, including 19th and 20th century Norwegian artists that focused on nocturnal landscapes. Ekblad’s work feels like an interesting continuation of the Anna-Eva Bergman’s minimal 1970s landscapes, Nikolai Astrup’s strongly delineated mountains and fires, and Thorvald Hellesen’s stylised deco colour palettes. 

It is perhaps interesting to see her work as ‘off-modernist’ in approach, to reference the late Svetlana Boym’s concept. Boym proposed a diagonal side step in the way of post post-modernism. ““Off-modern” is a detour into the unexplored potentials of the modern project. It recovers unforeseen pasts and ventures into the side alleys of modern history at the margins of error of major philosophical, economic, and technological narratives of modernization and progress,” she wrote a decade ago in the Atlas of Transformation. “Off-modern” follows a nonlinear conception of cultural evolution; it could follow spirals and zigzags, the movements of the chess knight and parallel lines that intertwine on occasion asymptotically.” Ekblad presents an aesthetic approach that mixes figuration and the abstract, pattern and form, excess and reduction. She reconstructs the cultural past and her own history, to create something that feels truly fresh. 

Francesca Gavin is a curator and writer based between London and Vienna. She is Editor of LIMBO, a Contributing Editor at Financial Times’ How to Spend It, Kaleidoscope, Twin and Beauty Papers. She was the co-curator of the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta11, has written seven books and has a monthly show Rough Version on NTS Radio on art and music.