‘Those Of The Unlight’, the title taken from the second studio album of Swedish black metal pioneers Marduk, is an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Pär Strömberg, an artist renowned for his landscape works depicting the dark and wintry scenery of Sweden. For this project Pär strayed from his familiar grounds and ventured into the world of portraiture, with a focus on black metal’s female participants. Black metal has, since its inception, been a predominantly male dominated genre, yet it has a strong and dedicated female following. With the advent of the hashtag, many of these woman have made their presence known to the world via social media by hash-tagging their ‘selfies’ with the label #blackmetalgirls.
Par’s intention with ‘Those Of The Unlight’ was to “evaluate their status within the tropes of Romanticism, an art style that ‘defies categorization.” Most of the women in the portraits had a Catholic upbringing, and, in Pär’s words, “use the machoistic iconography of black metal bands to make a form of rebellious statement.” Pär himself is deeply influenced by an “anti everything mentality.”
September 1 – September 29, 2015
Tuesday , September 29, 2015 | 5-8pm
Birger Jarlsgatan 4, 11356
Born in Örebro, Sweden in 1972 Pär’s upbringing – one filled with mythical stories of ghosts and trolls – and his Swedish heritage, contributes largely to the art he produces, in addition to the vast, untamed forested terrain of his northern home land. Pär graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam in 1999 and from Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm in 2013 and has been lecturing at Örebro College of Art since 2010. His work has made its mark across Europe and the United States.
I was fortunate enough to attend the opening of ‘Those Of The Unlight’ in Stockholm. Riche Lilla Baren, is a trendy bar attached to legendary restaurant Riche. Located on Birger Jarlsgatan, one of the longest streets in central Stockholm, and home to the city’s financial district and a string of fashionable stores, Riche has been serving the genteel of Stockholm since 1893. Art – old and new – is a valuable asset to the owners who believe it “contributes to making the restaurant edgy and stimulating.”
It had been raining all day on the opening night of ‘Those Of The Unlight,’ and the skies were suitably stormy when I arrived at Riche Lilla Baren. Though the decidedly grim mood outside wasn’t reflected once I stepped through the doors into the brightly lit bar. The decor inside the bar was opulent and not short of dazzling chandeliers. The crowd was a varied mix, from suited financial workers to leather clad metalheads.
I shuffled my way through the throng and headed towards the back of the bar, where I found myself standing before eighteen watercolor portraits. The noise faded out as I let my eyes roam across the somber faces of these comrades in arms. As a black metal enthusiast, the connection I felt to the work was immediate, though the longer I spent studying the subjects, the more my intrigue developed and the questions started mounting in my head, questions that never would have arisen had I spied the original imagery online. I wanted to engage in conversation with these #blackmetalgirls and, as luck would have it, one of the eighteen happened to be milling around in the crowd. Artist Sara Gewalt is a woman of few words, but told me that it was an honor to be involved in the exhibition, before hurrying off. I didn’t spot her again.
I managed to snatch some time with Pär and asked about the creation process and what he wanted to achieve with the project.
“I did the first portrait sometime in the end of 2014 not knowing where it would lead to. It was just a random painting to change direction in my night time sessions in my home studio. In the beginning of 2015 a few more grew on me and I have since made approximately one painting a week since (with a few weeks exceptions).
There is something really beautiful in the way these girls portray themselves 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 Romanticism. In its stylistic diversity and range of subjects, Romanticism defies simple categorization and this is to me a new way of portraiture.”
It was impossible to ignore the stark contract between Pär’s paintings and the elegant decor cocooning them, which led me to wonder why Riche Lille Barren? Pär explained.
“Riche has, despite being a bar, a thorough art program and I wanted to show something with valuable content for their visitors. When I talked with the manager Calle Carboni, we quickly started to talk about the ”blackmetalgirls” and slowly an idea to show them materialized for me. When I got a date, it was with short noticed and I had to work with temporary frames and a choice of work according to the space. The crowd at Riche Lilla Baren is diverse but open minded and is the natural waterhole of the leading artists, musicians and other cultural people of Stockholm.”
I asked Pär if he was happy with the turn out for the exhibition and if the feedback he’d received had been favorable.
“Yeah, being a Tuesday and first day of the autumn, I was very pleased seeing so many great faces, from dear friends to people from the art scene to the black metal scene. Feedback had been great and I look forward seeing a few more reviews and hopefully a few sales before the show ends. I also hope to celebrate a finissage near the end of the show, a few bottles of wine for late visitors that couldn’t make the opening night.”
I was also curious about what the future of the project entailed, as I was sure I’d seen some images online of paintings that weren’t included in the exhibition.
“I’m not sure what will happen with this project in the future. I show 18 of the portraits at this show, but there are nearly thirty made. Perhaps the series will grow during the coming years and I will show them somehow differently at another venue. A few things are in the loop for them however and the first is a collaboration with Swedish leather goods brand Brand Fyr (owned by the Renck brothers). The series will also be shown, in what way I’m not sure of yet, with Paper Gallery from Manchester at the coming London Art Fair.”
I’ve been a follower of Pär’s work for some time now, and can still recall the impact his landscapes had on me when I first encountered them on Instagram. I can still recall how I feverishly ransacked the internet for all the imagery I could find. To me, they felt like home. I wasn’t sure how much of an impact ‘Those Of The Unlight’ would leave on me, and so was somewhat surprised when the imagery permeated deep. I think it’s only a matter of time before ‘Those Of The Unlight’ ignites an interesting, long-lasting, debate heavy dialogue about black metal identity. When all’s said and done, Par has granted the ‘selfie’ a new dominion in the art world.