No man’s land

No man’s land
Swedish Artist Hilding’s Out-of-Focus Paintings Are Haunting by Gary Tischler
Even though the solid, square-shaped paintings on the wall appear uniform in size from a distance, they have a tenuous feel to them, as if they’d been touched by a fleeting wind and their contents somehow rearranged to seem indistinct and fragile, subject to change at any moment.
This is the apparent no man’s land created by Swedish artist Tommy Hilding, whose exhibition of 24 paintings—part of an ongoing series—is now on view at the Swedish Embassy.
The oil paintings—all uniformly 16 inches by 24 inches—have a kind of disembodied appearance, reminiscent of German artist Gerhard Richter’s blurred photo-paintings, only more so. Almost all of Hilding’s paintings look vaguely familiar, like shapes, objects, or wisps of dreams. They are indistinct and haunting and keep viewers transfixed on the painting, as if waiting for it to come into focus.
They are also decidedly modern works. If there are traces of nostalgia in the works, the traces are masked by views that seem nothing less than urban and industrial, views that seem ravenously new.
In short, what you see is a bit fragmentary and unsettling. All artwork in a settled place such as a gallery or museum have a solid feeling, no matter how abstract or kinetic. They are there for the time allotted and in the space that is required. Hilding’s works, however, look as if they might flee or disappear into the night only to reappear later in some other place or time.
That may be because these paintings are part of a yet unfinished series, which currently stands at 70 pieces. The original group of 48 was exhibited in an installation at the highly regarded Magnus Karlsson Gallery in Stockholm.
“In this series,” Hilding said, “I would like to see myself standing in the middle of a flow of media events, news from all around the world, private reflections and personal thoughts.”
There is a certain tension, a kind of ying-yang at work in Hilding. Born in a rural area of Sweden, Hilding lives just outside of Stockholm, though not in one of the traditional high-rise apartments typical in suburban Sweden.
“He’s considered one of the finest younger artists in Sweden,” said Peter Wahlqvist, the new Swedish cultural counselor. “There’s a lot of fragmentation in his work. Many of the works are rather somber.”
The tension in Hilding’s art revolves around memory and the rapidity of modern life. The paintings represent in a way what is left over from this rush, what we inaccurately remember. Some of the works look like aerial photographs of urban sections of a city, while others seem tight and yet always fading at the edges. There are times when you think you’re looking at ruined sections of a city, and other times when all you see is waste or discarded material dropped along a roadside. These images are similar to the memories that sit on the edge of clarity but are just beyond one’s reach.
Hilding was influenced by such artists as Mark Rothko and Richter. The series, titled “Sensor,” is an ongoing work. “It is very urban,” Hilding said. “It deals with our civilization, our will to construct and create.
“I mix all kinds of picture languages to get a true image of our divided and complex world right now,” he said. “Some of them stand on the edge of being readable. I concentrate on a detail of an image so that the original context gets lost, and what remains is a taste of something. We often see images for a second or so, and what do we remember of them?”
Hilding’s paintings could almost be Polaroids after the sun has had its way with them, or dreams impressing themselves on old landscape photographs. They could be from a long time ago, or something that happened just before waking.
Meanwhile, as all of the real images of daily life bombard us, these images meet up with the fantastical world in Hilding’s paintings, and in the end, nobody wins.
“Oil Paintings by Tommy Hilding” runs through Dec. 12 at the Embassy of Sweden, 1501 M St., NW, ninth floor. For more information, please call (202) 467-2642 or visit
Gary Tischler is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.