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The good in evil. The evil in good.

Fredrik Söderberg's paintings contain images from a variety of sources that have been woven together in an ornate story of the pursuit of beauty and the essential. Whether it concerns a spiritual or philosophical search, or a meeting between them, Söderberg dives down to the sources connected by fantasies about truth. Among these truths lay myths, philosophies and above all aesthetic persuasions whose ambivalence put the fate of humanity in the balance.

From the spiritual hunger, which Max Weber came to describe as the world's disenchantment, arose a yearning for a national soul. A collective spirit grounded in something far from the harshness and complacency of the iron cage of rationalism. With sentimental eyes the Germanic roots were sought out, deeply buried in their own and in Norse mythology. At the time, these were interpreted as tales of yore with a new reality in a timeless, disrupted connection with culture and nature, reason and spirituality, the pure and distorted.

In Söderberg's book Styx (Galleri Riis, 2014) a despairing ambivalence is highlighted, in which bloodshed becomes a necessary evil, when blessing is reached through sacrificial rite. The journey towards death; through the river Hades, revelations, nirvana or the transience of life. The descriptions have been loaded with intensity and an eclectic abundance in a discordant memento mori. Here lays a discerned worldwide journey of the hidden, like a rope tied around the ominous words of myth.

With Germany's embellishment of the past, a longing for the countryside slowly came to life. Lebensreform and Ernst Haeckel coining the term ecology was a decisive step in the journey back to nature. The Romantic idea of a symbol-filled nature was turned into a comprehensible discourse. A universal religion, with discernible roots - more powerful than abstract worship. Nature would fill a degenerate world with meaning. The counter-cultural movements that embraced nature as a fully animated being also included vegetarianism, temperance, nudism and alternative medicine. The fragmentation of the pleasance resulted in immeasurable falls down the abyss, where liberating influences became pointers and role models became despots. Söderberg's travels in their remnants can be read as a repudiation, but also reminds us of an unfettered state of prosperity and decay. The good of evil, the evil of good.

Hugo Höppener's, aka Fidus (the faithful), life story illustrates this sudden turn. In 1912 he designed the poster for a conference on racial biology in Hamburg. His illustrations of beautiful athletic bodies enclosed in the universe, was allied with the symbol of the renewed Germanic people and the recurring sun, a symbol of the new kingdom. He who was once pantheism's foremost companion and in every way embodied the true way of living in harmony with nature's spirit, was now a mean for irreconcilable goals.

Since 2008, Söderberg has methodically worked in watercolour. In pursuit of perfection of clean lines, he experiments with a highly controlled application of form. In strict stylized representations he tames the fragility of colour, as in a choice between a park's restraint and a forest's spontaneity. In soft, ethereal coats the subjects are illuminated in an overall surface; ominous rays, euphoric glow and the sun's indispensable presence. Unadorned accounts of places, prominent figures and events are joined with abstract emblems, as if to emphasize the full penetration of the spirit. In an opposite approach, he seems to embrace the unwieldiness of watercolour. Contours flows freely out along the surface of the paper. With irrevocable stains and shadows seeping out. Occasionally chance is simulated; the artificial patina of coffee stains, the spiral evocation of automatic drawing. All this is enclosed in the Symbolist tradition, in which Söderberg undoubtedly operates. In Austin Osman Spare's sharp alignment, enveloped by organic structures, the sun as recurring point of contact with Fidus' illustrations and Sir John Soane's representation of artificial ruins.

The ruin, a beacon taken from the romantic visions for the future, a remnant of humanity's capacity, meeting nature's unwavering influence. The ravages of time and nature's fickleness veils a universal longing for death. Albert Speer's Theorie vom Ruinenwert took in account the expanding potential of the ruin. The afterworld was as important as the present. Iron pillars and other impermanent materials were to be replaced with ancient marble and stone, so it could erode like the magnificent ruins of the Roman Empire.

"Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture, he would philosophize."

A recurring matter in Söderberg's works contain a sly contradiction; a reminder of the eternal influence of bygone kingdoms, and a projection-surface for interpretation. A place for peace of mind and a reminder of new beginnings.

Nature's inner conflict is humanity's inexorable struggle. William Blake's The Tyger describes how the innocent lamb and the tiger's ferocity was created by the same hand. The seasons regular shifts require a disorder to develop, as in the butterfly effect, where the wild remains unpredictable. It is humanity's inability to care and be submissive that is feared.

Söderberg's motifs inhabits this place, outside of harmony and rest. A land in which light requires darkness. Where the beautiful and coveted is reached through tunnels into the unknown, and at times dangerous. The poet Erik Blomberg's words echo:

     Deep in our light ring of iris,
     we have a pupil dark,
     for darkness is what bright light
     does trembling long to mark.

(Do not Fear the Darkness, 1920, Translation Linda Schenck.)

Ulrika Pilo

© 2016 FREDRIK SÖDERBERG