The exhibition I want to tell about is titled Those of the Unlight after the Marduk album from 1993 and is dedicated to portraits of beautiful girls in black metal outfits. It is selfies of girls posted on Facebook with the hashtag #blackmetalgirls that Strömberg has painted in order to explore the background and the statement of these girls while transphorming their selfies into portraits. The exhibition is still going on while I am writing this report and will close on September 29.
Those of the Unlight opened on September 1 in Stockholm at Riche Lila Baren. I went to see this exhibition on the opening day, full of curiosity about this unusual and interesting event. The exhibition includes nineteen works: eighteen black metal girls, all the same size and arranged in two parallel rows of nine each, plus another painting titled On Darkened Wings depicting a young woman, perhaps a teenager, wielding a rifle. The black metal girls are roughly a bit larger than the size of an A4 sheet excluding the frame; On Darkened Wings is much larger. Obviously, the prices follow the law of 6: On Darkened Wings costs 26,666 Swedish crowns, while the black metal girls cost 6,666 Swedish crowns each. To my surprise (and I must confess even a shadow of disappointment), when I arrived, I found out that the venue was one of the chicest and trendiest (and maybe expensive as well) restaurants in Stockholm. I must confess that I could not help feeling that the venue was not really suitable for this event. First of all the lights of the restaurant created reflections on the glasses of the paintings that were annoying and prevented the viewer from really enjoying these amazing paintings, which I disliked. This is evident from the photos I took in the venue that you can see in the gallery below; for this reason I also used scanned images that I borrowed from Pär Strömberg’s website. It was also difficult to have a closer look at the paintings because there were tables in front of them with people sitting and eating. Secondly, it is also a matter of atmosphere; I felt that the atmosphere of a chic restaurant is not suited to the message of these paintings portraying rebellious women. But on the other hand I am aware that my latter criticism probably just depends on prejudices and clichés, so it makes no difference. However, Pär Strömberg, whom I met and who was so kind to answer a few questions, explained the reason for the choice of the venue. Apart from this, art is what speaks to us and I think Pär Strömberg gives us a new way and a new dimension to live our beloved world of black metal, which is not only music, but also a way of perceiving the surrounding reality and, as Pär says, a way of thinking. So if you are in Stockholm these days, do not miss this event. Now enjoy the interview with Pär Strömberg and the gallery below!
You can follow Pär Strömberg on his official Facebook.
First of all I would like to ask you about the choice of the venue. Why did you choose a venue like Riche Lilla Baren in Stockholm?
I did a show there in 2010 showcasing a new series of paintings coinciding the release of my art book Darkness Visible. Since then, I’ve been asked to come back to do a second appearance but have felt no time, and no suitable project for it. When I got asked this summer again, I felt my ”blackmetalgirls” series actually could work as a project based presentation within the different context this specific venue actually hosts. Riche has also been a long time haven for great projects, art shows, release parties, band- and DJ-gigs and I like the diverse eclectic and cultural crowd and atmosphere it has.
Your project entitled Those of the Unlight, borrowing the title of Marduk’s album from 1993, is devoted to portraits of female blackmetallers. What is the mystery or the “unlight” you want to capture in their beautiful faces?
Well, I’m not really trying to unravel any mysteries here, rather trying to lift an idea to a different level. There is something really beautiful in the way these girls portray themselves on Instagram under the hashtag ”blackmetalgirls” and it's with an aura of rebellion in context to the superficial fashion trends among young people today. In portraying their ‘selfies’ in watercolour, my intention is to evaluate their status within the tropes of the artistic movement of Romanticism. In its stylistic diversity and range of subjects, Romanticism defies simple categorization and this is to me a new way of portraiture. The title worked so well and since many of the faces I come across are girls from catholic countries, their rebellion is clearly a flirt with a darker side than society has tried to offer them. I think for many of them, this statement is one of their first in getting recognized within a context or a group mentality in a subculture and that very album by Marduk was my first experience of that trve Black Metal was meant for me.
Some of your deserted landscapes remind me slightly of some landscapes by Theodor Kittelsen. Is he an inspiration for you?
Theodor Kittelsen was for many, outside Norway, pretty unknown up till Burzum and Hvis Lyset Tar oss in ’94. However, I studied at art already a few years prior back then and had came across his work in books and articles about among others Munch, Böcklin and John Bauer. There are so many more artists to be influenced by, but part of Kittelsens oevre has been impeccable for what the black metal aura stands for today.
The Nordic nature has inspired lots of black metal bands and in the field of visual arts artists like you who portray a deserted nature. Do you as a Swede think that this is the essence of Nordic nature, that is of being in a way desolate?
This is what I come from, where I grew up and the woods I paint are the landscapes of my childhood, my family’s history. Many of my narratives and themes derives from my the stories I was told as a kid playing in the woods of my ancestors. My great great grandfather was the forester of Fasaskogen, the great and mystical woodlands in Bergslagen and south Kilsbergen. The mountains, caves and deep untouched forests there created numerous of stories that has stuck with me thru all my life. That being said, I think what we in the Nordic regions have is a pride of our nature, our resources and our untouched lands. To look back to what once was, I see a resurgent atavism on the Black Metal scene and in diverse representations of Romanticism, is to look forward to a brighter future in the eyes among our peers. The pagan worship of nature, the desolation and respect for mother earth, the greatness of the landscape and smallness of man is something to celebrate contrary to modern evolution. This is our history, our past, this is what we can talk about whether it is musically or in literature, the movies or art.
I know you have another ongoing project these days in Copenhagen that is different from Those of the Unlight. I would like to know if you will bring Those of the Unlight to other countries and if there will be in the future other projects dedicated to black metal.
A lot of my projects are in one way or another part of a black metal thinking. Not per se, but in the aura of it. I will most likely show parts of Those of the Unlight at the forthcoming London Art Fair in February. There might be a chance I do a collaboration with the Swedish leather garment designers Brand/Fyr and for the rest, just keep in touch via my website to see what I’m up to.
What would you like say to our readers to close the interview?
Black Metal is a mindset, you get it or you don’t. In the end it’s about creation...
Text, interview, photos by Herjann