Still Lifes Reflect on Deep Dark Emotions at Swedish American Museum

Karin Broos, After the Bath III, 2010/2014. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Swedish American Museum presents an impressive exhibition, First Look: Still Life by Karin Broos, that displays 20 photorealistic works by Karin Broos who is considered one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists in Sweden. The paintings in this exhibition are works that Broos completed between 2011 through 2016 and have never been shown to the public before.

What makes Broos’ still lifes so distinctive is that she does not merely capture people in commonplace scenes, but also creates a psychological intensity between her subjects and their environments. In many of her works, there is an undercurrent of dark emotions, such as melancholy and loneliness, even though her subjects are placed in placid scenes.

Broos creates a sense of tension because her subjects not only express sadness and loneliness, they are also turning away from the viewer, diverting their eyes, as if to hide what they are feeling. In some of her paintings where there are multiple subjects in a scene, such as in After the Bath III  or Reflections, her subjects also avoid eye contact with each other that increases this sense of tension even more.

Karin Broos, Red Rest, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

There is also an ominous feel about the outdoor environment that Broos creates. The darkness of the trees and bodies of water have a foreboding look. The viewer feels that there is something sinister hiding behind the darkness — perhaps reminding us of our own inner demons that are fighting to come out.

Broos also expresses a contemplative side in her work, such as in The Girl with the Goldfish II. And she also captures those quiet moments in life that families share together such as in The Family where we see a mother nursing her baby or in Dark Water where a mother wades into a lake as she holds her child.

Acting like a furtive photographer, Broos captures intimate moments that make us feel like a voyeur peering into people’s lives. Private moments that allow us to take a glimpse and see that a much bigger story is taking place.

Her eye for detail is remarkable and it invites the viewer to take an even closer look at her work. She creates subtle details such as the folds of a thin curtain in Backlight; the fading sunlight in Nostalgia; and the texture of a fleece blanket in The Cat.

Karin Broos, Backlight, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Broos began her career in the arts as an abstract painter, but came to photorealistic painting later in her career. What sets her apart from many other photorealistic artists is her ability to convey various moods within her subjects. The strength of this exhibition is Broos’ ability to express universal feelings that we have all experienced. She creates moods with a subtle touch without needing to be overly dramatic. As a keen observer, Broos knows that it is often in the quiet moments when we experience our deepest longings.

First Look: Still Life by Karen Broos, will be on display through September 23, 2018 at the Swedish American Museum located at 5211 N. Clark. Hours: Monday through Friday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about other exhibitions and events at the museum, visit their website or call (773) 728-8111. Admission: $4 for adults; $3 for children, students and seniors; $10 for families. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month.

Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek