Review: Bengt Lindström Exhibition Explores the Magic of Nordic Mythology

Bengt Lindström, Biegga Galles, The God of the Storm Wind,
Bengt Lindström, Biegga Galles, The God of the Storm Wind, 1975-1988, Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy: Bengt Lindström Society.

The new exhibition at the Swedish American MuseumThe Master of Ancient Mythology: Bengt Lindström—brings the public into the magical world of Nordic mythology. On display are 31 works by Bengt Lindström (1925-2008), who was one of Sweden’s best-known contemporary artists.

Lindström’s work was greatly influenced by the people of Laplandthe most northern part of Sweden. The locals would tell him about many of the myths and legends that would later inspire him to paint the ancient monsters and deities of Nordic mythology. Also included in these myths was the belief that the inherent phenomena of nature had divine powers that were not only to be celebrated, but to be feared—a belief that was shared by many ancient cultures around the world.

What makes Lindström’s work stand out in this exhibition is his powerful use of brush strokes and his dramatic choice of vibrant colors. In many of his paintings, he applies heavy layers of paint that create a sculpting effect on the canvas. His unique painting process made him use many brushes in the course of his work. It wasn’t unusual for him to use up to a thousand brushes on a six-by-six foot canvas because he preferred using a new brush for each brush stroke in order to avoid colors blending or smearing together. Because it would be too expensive to buy new brushes for each painting, it was left up to his assistant to pick up and clean each brush that Lindström would toss to the side once he was done with it.

Bengt Lindström, The Sinful King
Bengt Lindström, The Sinful King, 1988, Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy: Bengt Lindström Society.

A common thread in many of his paintings are the large eyes and contorted faces that look down on the viewer. In The Nordic God Thor, The Sinful King, or Biegga Galles, God of the Storm Wind, Lindström creates menacing images as the eyes of his subjects stare at us in an ominous manner.

There is also a sense of vibrancy and movement in his work such as in The Crazy One  where at first glance we think we are getting a glimpse of someone’s insanity. But when studying the painting more closely, it seems that Lindström is holding up a mirror to make us look into our own psyche that contains its own inner madness.

In Red Magic there is a voodoo-like quality to this work—he captures the dark world of the occult while the eyes in this painting seem to cast an evil spell upon the viewer. Also worth noting is Lindström’s painting, The Scream, which is an homage to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Lindström doesn’t merely try to replicate Munch’s work, but instead brings his own interpretation of an individual wracked with agony while living in a world of uncertainty.

Bengt Lindström, Red Magic
Bengt Lindström, Red Magic, 1995, Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy: Bengt Lindström Society.

Another powerful work in this exhibition is a ceiling installation titled, The Dancing Gods of Asgard. In this work, Lindström painted figures and mounted them double sided on over 20 black boards that suspend from the ceiling. The power of this work is that it’s in a constant state of change because each of the figures slowly rotate from the air current like a mobile. Because of the slow but steady movement of the suspended pieces, one can continually get a fresh perspective of this work.

What makes this exhibition so impressive is how Lindström brings these ancient myths to life through his use of color and powerful brush strokes. In many ways, these Nordic gods and monsters still speak to us because they are essentially universal archetypes that lurk in the recesses of our subconscious minds.

The Master of Ancient Mythology: Bengt Lindström will be on display through September 22 at the Swedish American Museum located at 5211 N. Clark. Hours: Monday through Friday: 10am to 4pm and Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 4pm. For more information about other exhibitions and events at the museum, visit their website or call 773-728-8111. Admission: $6 for adults; $4 for children, students and seniors; $15 for families. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month.

Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek