Becoming an Artist
Recent photographic works by Anders Krisár

By Anders Kreuger

What makes naïve questions irresistible is that they seem so fundamental. They are easy to ask, since they correspond to a basic need for questioning. For the same reason, perhaps, they are quite impossible to answer. What motivates a person to become an artist? A truthful, but not very satisfying answer is that it depends on the person. More intriguingly, but less succinctly, we can assume that some persons are propelled by a desire to make art, to do art, to be in art, and that their decision to give in to it is dictated by a force stronger than themselves. An exceptional susceptibility, perhaps, to how the surrounding world looks and feels? A drive to articulate and express the Self? A rebellious individualist stance? A Will to Power? A Divine Calling, even? If questions like these cannot receive exhaustive and believable answers, then the assumptions that underlie them will also not go away, and a faint romantic aura will continue to glow around the Artist.

In these days of over-confidence in formalised education and professional networks, it seems unlikely that a person would be able to come from outside the self-conscious art world and claim to have become an artist through nothing but his own desire and dedication. It is even less likely that others would believe him and agree with his perception of himself. But it does happen, and it has happened with Anders Krisár. Without other professional credentials than a high-powered but somewhat erratic career in international advertising, he caught the public eye in his native Stockholm not long ago with his first-ever artwork, a lavishly produced gallery exhibition and book project called Chords No. 1 - 17. This über-precise photographic portfolio of beaches in the Seychelles, accompanied by piano chords collected on a CD, was even voted best photographic book of the year in Sweden.

When a person unexpectedly shifts between “low profile” and “high profile” modes of existence, this generates curiosity. A sudden leap into visibility is just as intriguing as an established personality who, in Marcel Duchamp’s words, “goes underground.” What is behind the Fresh Face? A White Sheet of Paper? A Man Without a Past? These questions became clichés long before they were formulated, but they impose themselves with every unexpected debut, and they help build the mystique of the Newcomer. When this newcomer displays a whitish face, a paper-thin figure and a crisp demeanour faintly reminiscent of your own rarefied Eighties, your general interest is aroused. And when the work on display leaps at you with uncompromising pictorial seriousness and hallucinatory attention to detail, then you demand to know more about its creator.

Born in 1973, Anders Krisár grew up in Stockholm. His family name is Hungarian, his given name quintessentially Swedish. He discontinued his studies at the University College of Art and Design in favour of an advertising school in London. After graduation, he landed a top-notch job in Copenhagen, but his career in that foreign city lasted only eight months. He moved back to Stockholm and became obsessed with the idea of learning to play the piano. His landlord almost evicted him for relentless round-the-clock practicing. Again he sought, and gained, handsomely paid employment in advertising. But after a year he quit once more, this time to devote himself to the study of musical theory and the principles of classical composition. Two years later he travelled to New York, where he spent his last money on dry-cleaning a shirt (the kind of situation that should no longer be included in artists’ biographies) to wear for the Job Interview. He gracefully accepted a position as art director. Since his function on that job was to provide un-saleable showcase creativity, it did not keep him all that busy, and he again found himself mostly sitting at home in the apartment, practicing the piano and taking composition classes for one and a half year, until his visa expired. The severance pay bought him a vintage Deardorff camera with all the necessary updated extras. After another three months of labouring in a London advertising firm, Anders Krisár was off to the Seychelles to take his pictures and thereby do what he had always wanted to do - become an artist.

How do you become an artist? This question is too straightforward and too general. Every artist-to-be will be thoroughly scrutinised, and the answer depends on who is passing judgment over him. There are institutional thresholds for the aspiring artist to get over (“you are not one of us if you do not share our background, our anxieties, our frustrations”), but there are, on the other hand, many illustrious artists who lack formal education. There is essentialist prejudice to overcome (“you are not one of us if you do not share our authentic views of the world and of our own importance”), but then again there are many original artists who completely ignore the ingrained formulae. There are more specific requirements that have to do with the working process (“you are not one of us if you do not know how to make art, but think it is enough to do art”), but there are, finally, many established artists whose work is about neither, but simply centres on being an artist.

These criteria are based on projected reactions from the social body of already existing artists and other “art professionals” towards newcomers. We could disregard them, but there would still be other requirements an artist may be required to meet by accomplished colleagues, by educated critics and exacting audiences. The becoming-artist of a person can be conditioned by his ability to articulate his issues, his obsessions or his personality in a way that produces both a meaningful utterance and a perceptible stimulation. If we dare to paraphrase Gilles Deleuze, we can say that the artist’s work should create both sense and sensation, that they should affect “the brain” and “the nervous system” at the same time. Another ability that an artist should be able to demonstrate is that of re-modelling his private experience into a personal statement that can take on a public relevance. These demands on the aspiring artist imply that there is no detour-less path connecting ambition and achievement, intention and impact, project and product. In fact, distinguishing between “making art“ (expertly producing artworks or managing art projects) and “doing art” (competently enacting the attitudes of “process” that underlie the works and the projects, but by-passing the actual production) is less crucial than understanding the importance of the often humiliatingly difficult practice that must intervene between the artist’s own vision of what he will do and the spectator's reception of what he has done. And this continuous “being in art,” which must include a constant readiness to destroy what was already achieved for the sake of continued progress, has little to do with the romantic cliché of being an artist.

Let us not do Anders Krisár an unintended disfavour by hurrying to proclaim him a fully-fledged artist despite his non-conformity with the norms of the artistic community, and despite of his lack of “appropriate” education, background and networks. That would only amount to invalidating his concrete becoming-artist by celebrating the abstract notion of being-an-artist. Let us instead trace his development by taking a closer look at some of his most recent photographical work, all produced in 2003. He has already left behind last year’s polished images of generic beauty in tropical settings, and is now exploring subject matter and visuality with which he must engage much more closely, both psychically and topographically.

Family Matter is a series of second-degree portraits of Anders Krisár’s immediate family. The life-mask of the artist’s younger aunt Maria was cast in pewter and photographed against a pitch-black background. It was re-cast into the life-mask of the older aunt, Elza, which in turn was also photographed and re-cast into his mother’s life-mask. After being photographed, the mother’s face was melted down and turned into that of the artist’s brother Johan. The procedure was then repeated for an effigy of Anders Krisár himself, which was duly photographed and finally cast into a smallish tin cube (11.5 cm). The only remaining trace of this family meltdown is the series of five life-size photographs (27 x 34 cm). The work will be exhibited as an installation, with the eyeless and earless metallic faces in a row on a wall and the dumb tin cube on a pedestal in front of them. A description of the rigid setup and execution of this work may suggest it is more matter-of-fact than subliminal. As in Anders Krisár’s other pictures, however, poetic complication is generated by the almost obsessive precision of the visual detailing and the photographic craftsmanship. The five silvery faces gleam in flickering daylight. Their pores and furrows, their wrinkled lips and clogged eyelashes conspire to efface all structural facial traits; stripping the whole family of vital substance and suspending its members between life and death against the unconscious blackness of the background.

Hiding the Hidden is a series of three large photographic prints (180 x 230 cm). The oversized pictorial field and the surreal sharpness of the image would overwhelm the viewer, if it were not for the clarity and softness of vision that saturates these corners of 18th century English-style landscaped parks in the outskirts of Stockholm. In the Northern hemisphere, the lucidity of early summer cannot be dulled, not even by a fully clouded sky. In purely visual terms, Anders Krisár’s renderings of the vistas opening up to a lonesome wanderer in these artificial woods evoke the dream-like sequences of vacations in a long lost Russia inserted here and there into the novels of Vladimir Nabokov. Or they make you think of the elaborately coordinated set in Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. In any case, these photographs are nostalgic abstractions from today’s public gardens at Haga and Hässelby as we are forced to experience them in an era of noisy adjacent highways and compulsory early morning jogging. While it cannot be said that Anders Krisár’s pictures tell lies about how his environment looks and feels today, they also do not engage the viewer in an exchange of contemporary views on reality as a social construct. They insist, instead, on keeping many things out of sight and withholding them from our scrutiny, in order to clear our vision and make us see the secrets that lurk behind each tree. Indeed, the artist has made his mother and father hide behind the tree trunks in these pictures. They are not invisible. They are just not revealed to us immediately. These landscapes are actually portraits, and their title tells a “true story” of what will be shown to those capable of giving in to their pictorial persuasion. In these photographs, hiding the hidden implies its own opposite, which is revealing the revelation. The artist himself is hiding nothing: he is just giving us the colour-schemed setting that allows us to uncover what was left uncovered.

Flesh Clouds, finally, is another series of large photographic prints (141 x 180 cm). Of a projected multitude of images, two can be shown at this stage. The production process behind these ethereal tableaux vivants is painstaking. Some ten or fifteen people are asked to gather at dawn outside the medieval Riddarholmen church in the heart of Stockholm, to strip off their clothes and to run around each other in a small circle. The exposure time is long, more than one minute. On the negative, therefore, the naked limbs merge into one flesh-coloured gazeous body. Once again the artist’s choice of backdrop (the withering Gothic bricks, the moist Baroque flagstones) may be read as an attempt to escape present-day realities, even if the notion of individual bodies evaporating and forming a collective cloud is indicative of a fashionably deconstructivist world view. Neither interpretation is, strictly speaking, correct. Our author’s choice of subject matter and shooting location is, at least so far, decided by his personal background and aesthetic sensibilities rather than by a concern with the theoretical and social framework of art as an institution based on consensus. He is in the business of artmaking, and he has a need for experimental strategies in the traditional sense of trying things out and sometimes failing. He is prohibitively demanding in his work, and de-selects most records of his real-life photographic sessions. Discarded (and embargoed) pictures fill thick envelopes in his Stockholm bedsitter.

Anders Krisár’s finished images reveal themselves as the product of a highly focused mind. They are manifestations of steely willpower by someone who is intent on defining and defending his own way of becoming an artist. But perfection, when actually achieved, tends to become its own flaw. In their completeness, these photographs contain a seed of pre-programmed self-destruction. They generate almost imperceptible cracks in their own lacquered surface. Their touched-up smoothness reveals a “prophetic” grain, allowing the viewer to sense the perhaps most crucial quality of art as becoming: a hidden potential for unpredictable future ruptures.

Helsinki and Stockholm, November 2003