Elisabeth Bjørnsen Werp: Dream-like and figurative paintings
Text: Ingrid Opstad | Photos: Camilla Nysted
Renowned Norwegian artist Elisabeth Bjørnsen Werp has developed a unique style where technique and symbolism glide into each other, creating dream-like and figurative paintings. This summer, she is proud to be exhibiting her work alongside Odd Nerdrum, one of Norway’s foremost painters, at Galleri Jennestad in Vesterålen. “He challenges and inspires my mindset and my willingness to paint better and stronger,” Werp explains.
Growing up, Elisabeth Bjørnsen Werp never thought about becoming a painter. Living on a farm with heavy, solid work, she learnt early on that art was something for dreamers and dilettantes. “Still, I was sitting in my room drawing or painting whenever there was no homework and no assignments delegated by my father. Later on, my passion developed into making images with straw, sand, foliage and leftovers of fabric I found, and eventually I ended up with a large twig cabin in the forest, where I made a huge map,” Werp recalls. The map would contain various mental spaces, so she gathered symbols, sketches, words, poems, postcards and rarities, which all got their own place on the map. “Creating things became my way of coping with the feeling of not belonging, of being a stranger. Creating chaos and emptiness in form and meaning became a craze, and it still is today.”
‘Painting is my whole life’
To go deeper into her existence and work, Werp explains that painting is her whole life. “I understood very early in life that people cannot be trusted. That love is fleeting. That we are on borrowed time – that everything we long for is only on loan, and that the one thing no one can take away from us is the reality and the world we create in our inner self.”
She believes that the process of painting pictures, creating rooms, building a garden, setting up an altar, making sketches, writing words, understanding a new line of thought, and eventually building your own universe where you experience belonging and permanence, has become absolutely necessary in the world we live in, in order not to sink into self-centering, pondering, narcissism, melancholy and sadness.
To touch something in the observer
With her art, Werp wants to get closer to the feelings her mind carries, which constantly nourishes new impressions along the way. The act of visualising this, and infrequently even seeing a reflection of these pictures from her mind, gives the artist a tremendous sense of joy. “I strive for this feeling every single hour I’m in my studio. And if my paintings also manage to touch something within the observer, whether it resonates with or sparks recognition in someone else, it is of course double joy for me. At the same time, it is important for me to stretch myself further and further; to understand more, develop my craftsmanship, get deeper, loosen up and tighten at the same time,” she says.
A mind recording everything
In terms of inspiration, the artist explains that everything around her is pictures and compositions, and that the objects she observes are transformed at the speed of light into a metaphor or symbol she can then use in her art.
“My head acts as a constantly operating camera. I record everything I see, much more than I really can handle or my nerves can tolerate. The eyes detect and my antennae are in full readiness absolutely all the time,” Werp says, adding: “A forgotten bike, the light I see in someone’s eyes, a wilted flower, a wheel, a trapped fly, a peeled brick wall, an old postcard, a clock that has stopped… almost everything I come across can become a new puzzle piece in one of my projects.”
“Lately, I’ve become obsessed with painting abandoned rooms – and I see no end to it. I now have a whole book full of sketches with abandoned rooms. The people have gone, left things behind. Something is broken, weathered, decayed, dusted or cracked. Nature has perhaps intervened. Or a stranger has suddenly strayed into the room and set aside fresh flowers. The light from outside always finds a crack in the wall or a route through which it can penetrate and reveal new hopes, new dreams, new opportunities, new life,” she explains.
These rooms become metaphors in Werp’s artwork and point to the fact that everything will one day be torn away from us. “Everything we are and everything we do is going to be built up, broken down, rebuilt, in an eternal cycle. The beauty of it, I must try to catch.”
In true Renaissance style, Werp makes her own paint, an oil tempera-based on colour pigments. She achieves this by mixing eggs, boiled linseed oil and water. “This is one of many recipes used by the Renaissance painters in the 15th century. In addition, I experiment with sand, lead, carborundum, chrome, charcoal, and more. I work with layers upon layers, and my method includes drawing, manipulating old screen-printing techniques, painting, building up, breaking down, etching, burning, drawing and painting again…”
Nerdrum – Werp
This summer, Werp is proud to be exhibiting her work alongside Odd Nerdrum, one of Norway’s foremost painters, at Galleri Jennestad in Vesterålen. “It is, of course, a big challenge to be exhibiting with a painter that I admire so much. I can only do my utmost, be humble, and endure standing in the shadow of Nerdrum,” she smiles. “These are the three requirements I have always asked of myself. To endure being small gives tremendous inner strength.”
Werp invited Nerdrum to the exhibition because she wanted to honour his enormous artistry, his gigantic project, and his great capacity as both a painter and a thinker. “At the same time, I find it exciting to observe the ‘fire bombs’ he throws into established and adopted truths in our society. He challenges and inspires my mindset and my willingness to paint better and stronger.”
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