Unni Askeland is the enfant terrible of the contemporary, Norwegian art; shocking the politically correct establishment nor merely with her works, but also with her-sometimes bohemian, sometimes glamorous lifestyle.
Unni Askeland was born in Bergen in 1962. After a year in the Art School in Kabelvåg, Askeland started at the Academy of Western Norway, Bergen (1983-84). In 1987 she entered the National Academy of Fine Arts where she graduated in 1992.
At the Academy’s Graduate Exhibition Askeland showed Waiting for Picasso, a painting depicting herself in the company of artists such as Edvard Munch, Frida Kahlo, Lena Cronquist and Francesco Clemente. Apart from the obvious lack of modesty the picture could also be read as a manifesto of her artistic ideals. Staging her own persona in her own works and within the art historical tradition has ever since been a central element in Askeland’s ouevre, as seen in the Munch Adoption Project. Furthermore, the artist here demonstrate an awareness of her belonging to the expressionist tradition. Expressionist ideals dealing with personal, often erotic, experience, are present in most of her works. The 1980s saw a revival of these ideas with the so-called Neo-Expressionist movement. For Askeland’s visits to New York studios of Brice Marden and Francesco Clemente were crucial to this developement.
With the Obituaries Project around 2000, the artist turned from figurative to abstract painting. The project dealt with death, and the paintings had the shape of coffins, painted in subtle blue and violet hues. After a few years of abstract expressionist paintings, the artist once again turned to figurative painting and to art historical ideals. Munch Adoptions (2004) was a series of paraphrases of Edvard Munchs famous «soul paintings» from the 1890s. Meddling with the nations master caused something of a scandal in the norwegian milieu. However, Askeland’s pictures were not copies, but reinterpretations of Munch’s themes, such as love, sex and agony.
With the series Desire and Destruction and Big Blonde – the latter shown in New York in 2006 – Askeland depicted the icons of the 20th century, paraphrasing well-known portraits. Among femme fatals such as Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, and Courtny Love, one also found, once again, the artist herself. Both in theme and style, these projects were obvious reference to the Pop art of Andy Warhol, demonstrating the artists affinity to the American tradition. the technique was photo-based serigraphy.
The exhibition A Lot of Water Under the Bridge (2008) featured images inspired by the famous movie Casablanca, among others love scenes with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. When a series from this was acquired by the National Museum of Art in Oslo, it stirred a new debate, not only about the artist, but also about the museum.
Written by Knut Ljøgodt.