top of page

Sarah Szabo

Art and Culture


The paintings in the catalogue “Odd Nerdrum: Paintings,” exhibited at Forum Gallery, 2007, show nude figures in space, in seemingly intense psychological experiences, interacting among each other and in relation to the universe around them. The exact meaning is left somewhat mysterious, although one can imagine Nerdrum had very specific concepts in mind. I love how the meaning feels universal and beyond that of petty every day concerns. I also love the application of the paint, and how it seems to intentionally emphasize the emotion and gesture of each figure. The use of spots of lights, both warm and cool, further emphasize the drama and almost iridescent, dreamy effect in the color. The compositions are illusionistic in such a way that when absorbed in them, they become reality, even if the paintings are not painted in a hyper realistic fashion.

Another collection of paintings, grouped as “Water” in Odd Nerdrum: Themes, carry these techniques and effects to a structural setting, that of water and barren volcanic landscape. Although the figures and land are grounded by color space, the sense of atmosphere and otherworldly light is not lost. Warm lights coming from mysterious sources light the figures, but so effectively it does not distract from the light and color from the sky and land reflecting it. I am in love with the paint application—harmoniously but expressive and intentionally placed and removed paint created a balance between substance and atmosphere, crisp refinement of sophistication, and raw display of human physicality and experience. Nerdrum has taken the techniques of Renaissance and Baroque “masters” into a new context, and, in my opinion, to a new plane of expression and possibility, which captivates me in the fullest.


The figurative paintings of De Kooning, shown in “de Kooning, a Retrospective,” and “Willem de Kooning,” by Thomas B. Hess, seemingly try to show the expression of a human experience through their painting, but they only compel me to anger. I hate to look at the barbaric refusal of compositional flow, depth of space, structure, and light interacting in a space and among its contents.  I hate the color combinations he chooses, the way he smears the paint, and completely flattens the surface through its application and that of black outlines. When I look at images of his paintings, I feel dehumanized and disgusted in a non-productive manner. In their attempt to challenge norms and expectations of society, I feel ever the more compressed and depressed by it. If I were to create something like this, it would not be a sign of liberation. It would be a symbol of me giving up on everything, smushing all my efforts, reverting to pure brute reaction to such a degree that it feels against nature. Nature has randomness, rust, decay, and erosion…but never does it create something I feel so appalled by—not even in a great accumulation of its waste.  I liken my experience of looking at his creations to that of the bus screeching when it comes up the hill being turned into music, while simultaneously having sewer thrown in my face, being turned into music. And I am even a fan of some grindcore metal. I cannot liken it to my experience of this. At least through this I feel release—through these paintings I feel only the accumulation of further rage.



Elderfield, John, et al. De Kooning: A Retrospective. Museum of Modern Art, 2011.


Hess, Thomas B. Willem de Kooning. George Braziller, Inc. 1959.


Odd Nerdrum: Paintings. Forum Gallery, 2007.


Odd Nerdrum: Themes: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, and Sculptures. Press, 2007.

bottom of page