Jonny Andvik: Renowned painter Jonny Andvik’s stories of nature and culture
By Maria Vole | Photos: Jonny Andvik
Jonny Andvik is one of Norway’s leading figurative painters. Throughout his long and illustrious career, the artist has found his path – working in the tradition of the old masters, telling meaningful stories of the human condition and the landscape around us.
For Jonny Andvik, art and the process of creating is a lifestyle. “I lead a holistic artistic way of life – living, thinking, philosophising and ultimately creating paintings,” he says. As a child, Andvik was inspired by his grandfather, Alf Andvik, who painted as a hobby. His grandfather gave him brushes and painting equipment, encouraging him to express himself. From an early age, Andvik had a hunger for knowledge.
“I’ve spent a huge amount of time doing research and learning about art history and different artists,” Andvik says. “The culmination of all that learning has made me realise that the great masters all have their own form and technique that is personal to them. Finding your own shape and form of expression is hugely important.”
A well-educated and thoughtful artist, spreading knowledge and inspiring others is a major aspect of Andvik’s work. He has taught hundreds of students about the classic methods of figuration and portrait painting. “I find teaching incredibly rewarding,” Andvik says.
Paying homage to the natural and cultural landscape
Andvik grew up in the historic region of Telemark in Southern Norway. Known for its magnificent nature and rich cultural heritage, Telemark was the perfect place for a creative young soul to start his lifelong journey of artistic expression.
“Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated with the farming culture and the storytelling traditions of the area. The old folk tales and fairy tales felt enriching to me, and I’ve always had a huge imagination,” he says. “This has been a fantastic background to work from, and it has had a great impact on my art.”
The region of Telemark is home to the country’s richest heritage of folk stories, fairy tales, folk music and poems. It’s a colourful area where these Norwegian traditions remain alive and well. “I find the local nature and culture in Telemark very inspiring, and I enjoy using landscapes, buildings and objects from this area as motifs in my paintings,” Andvik says. “I work with a very personal language of realism. My paintings are a way of communicating.”
Andvik is known for his emotive depictions of the rural landscape of Telemark, as well as portrait paintings. To him, preserving the natural heritage of our world is equally as important as preserving the cultural heritage of humankind.
A search for meaning
It’s important for Andvik that every painting tells a story. He’s fascinated by the human traces and signs of life that are left behind in landscapes that endure far longer than our bodies do. “Searching for human traces in the landscape, I rely on my gut feeling to see how I can relate early stories experienced by others,” Andvik says. “I spend a lot of time reflecting and engaging in philosophical musings while I paint. Who were these people? Why did they leave this place suddenly and leave their things behind?”
With a focus on depicting regular objects and old buildings, Andvik is drawn to the old, the rough, the rusty, the damaged – abandoned things that once held great meaning for everyday people.
“I enjoy telling the strange and unlikely stories. Something that might not be very aesthetic can become aesthetically pleasing as a painting,” Andvik says. “With pigmentation and textures, with a story underpinning the work and central symbolism at play – you can turn it into something different. There’s a lot of beauty in the ugly.”
The importance of being present
For Andvik, a close connection with landscape is a prerequisite for creating art that is truthful and genuine. He finds a lot of inspiration in the richness of natural textures: earth, moss, mountains. “I’m very focused on searching for the natural light you can only find in nature, and I want my paintings to be authentic. When you see an interior painting of mine, I want you to feel as though you are in a barn from the 1700s, that you can feel it and smell it,” he says.
A staunch opponent of easels and painting materials that are harmful to the environment, Andvik brings a saw along on his painting expeditions so he can make his own easels on the spot. “When I’m finished painting, I leave them there as degradable materials in the landscape,” he says. “Being present in the spaces I’m painting is important to me. I don’t want to be entertained by what I see, I want to exist within it and get as close to it as possible.”
Andvik feels that spending time in the environments he’s painting is incredibly rewarding, and it’s a way of working that few artists are using these days. “I often work in rough environments. I could be in minus-15 degrees in the high mountains, a thousand metres above the sea or by the coast in strong gale winds – I want to be present in it,” Andvik says. “The more challenging the conditions are, the richer the paintings become in the end. Being there adds layers of meaning that you wouldn’t get from snapping a few photos of a place and going home to your comfortable studio to paint it.”
Andvik is currently working on a new collection. This year, his work will be displayed at a local exhibition at Galleri Osebro in Porsgrunn in October, as well as at several collective exhibitions around Norway.
“For me, creating is a battle and a struggle, but I enjoy the process,” Andvik says. “Joy is a good driving force, but I also like pain. Working with these paintings and achieving an intense expression should be a demanding process.”
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