Sep 15, 2011

PROFILE | Erik Thor Sandberg

Erik Thor Sandberg, Alterations, oil on panel, 2010 

"I find the fallibility of man to be the subject that I connect with the most in most artwork." The average viewer may not pick up on this idea at first glance of artist Erik Thor Sandberg's work. Based in Washington D.C., Sandberg is a contemporary artist who produces skillfully executed figurative paintings. Greatly inspired by sixteenth century painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Sandberg's works poke fun at social satire and showcase the effect that humanity has on nature. His paintings are complicated and somewhat ironic in the way that he places beautifully sculpted figures in a visually appealing setting, while these figures engage in such "in your face" acts. 

Erik Thor Sandberg, Receptivity, oil on curved panel, 2011

Sandberg's works display a contrasting idea of visual attraction and repulsion. It begs the question, should you stare or look away? Receptivity, is one of four works currently on display at the D.C. Conner Contemporary Art Museum showcased in the "Is Realism Relevant?" exhibition. Sandberg paints a seemingly beautiful nature scene with a vast landscape as the backdrop. The surroundings, hundreds of birds, as well as the unclothed woman appear to be part of nature. As we take a closer look, a guardrail unexpectedly  intervenes in the otherwise peaceful scene.  This eyesore becomes an obvious interruption to the beauty and life around it. Once fully taken in as a whole, the intrusive object strikes a chord and this odd but undoubtedly beautiful painting begins to make sense. Similarly, Alternations takes place in a tasteful, serene environment. Sandberg inserts two statuesque type female figures that begin to suggest the intended irony of the painting. Showcasing human folly, Sandberg entertains us by depicting two otherwise innocent appearing women in the act of "altering" a chick and male deer. Whether willing to admit it or not, any human can relate to or at least understand the underlying message of Sandberg's works. Sandberg successfully conveys the complex relationship between mankind and nature, which essentially provides us life. 

Erik Thor Sandberg, Consternation, oil on panel, 2009 

Although many of Sandberg's most recent works are set within and often times have an implied connection to nature, it is definitely not the only issue he touches upon.  Subject matters include: greed, sex, vanity, and death, among many other humanistic characteristics. Vice has a prominent presence throughout these paintings and in his words, "Vice creates conflict and conflict is what makes life interesting." Many but not all of his works include attractive portrayals of the human figure. Some of his subjects on the other hand appear to be dis-formed, whether they have stubs for arms or no arms at all. In opposition to works of the past where dis-formed bodies implied an inner evil, Sandberg's depictions of dis-formation literally hints at the general dysfunctionalism of humans. What should be appreciated, is often taken for granted whether it be something as basic as food or as valuable as a life.  Not everyone may be able to see past the awkward and sometimes appalling positions or context that Sandberg chooses to represent his figures in, but to those who can there is a chance of appreciation for the simple things in life. His work is a display of the real. That which is beautiful must also coexist with that which is vile and in the case of man-kind sometimes even self-destructive. 

- Samantha Jorgensen

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