Stavanger Art Museum recently opened an exhibition showing the extensive oeuvre of artist Per Dybvig. Dybvig is an artist known for his illustrations and contributions to childrens’ books, such as Svein and His Rat by Marit Nicolaysen. Often humorous, satirical and with a somewhat black mood, these drawings are compelling to children and adults alike. Titled Look What the Bird Found, the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum offers an excellent insight into his career and diversity as an artist. Dybvig’s strongest assets are also highlighted in this collection of works, as some pieces prove to be a more piercing experience than others. The show is curated by museum Director Hanne Beate Ueland and Maiken Winum.
The exhibition presents works of various media including film, sculpture and drawing, with the latter being most prominent in this show. Large-scale drawings and smaller illustrations placed together in series are displayed throughout the exhibition area and also represent the primary medium in Dybvig’s practice. The drawings and illustrations in the large hall, turning left when entering the space, are primarily of animals carrying personified with human characteristics. There is also a piece that includes a small, old-fashioned TV with projected audio of a man’s voice. This voice is very loud and makes an impact on the viewer’s experience of the entire exhibition area. Whether this is intentional or not, it does make a rather disturbing effect. The sound interferes with the experience of viewing other artworks in the space and imputes an unnecessary layer onto the works. Apart from this, there are several artworks in this area that present intriguing stories, scenes and personalities.
Dybvig has an invigorating ability to portray characters, human and animal, with intention and soul. His figures are never perfect or idealized. Animals such as rabbits, hedgehogs and mice do not retain many cute, pet-like qualities, but are rather sinister and mystical creatures in the world of Dybvig. Often partaking in inexplicable actions, the situations and scenes he portrays seem to be of a kind of underworld of the imagination. Although many of these drawings feel otherworldly and fantastical, the creatures maintain certain recognizable human qualities. Emotions such as suspicion, jealousy, conspiracy and trust are explored in the facial expressions and actions of the animals. They appear at first to be distant fantasy-creatures, but upon recognition by the viewer of how they correspond with our true nature, they suddenly feel much closer. This sense of intimacy also comes forth in elements such as a few pinecones and nuts on the marble floor, and some drawings extended onto the wall and floor in the actual exhibition space. Although the works often have a fun and entertaining appeal, they contain a deep sense of somberness. The dream-like landscapes and creatures feel at times like an exploration of the human subconscious in which the darker side of human nature comes to the forefront. Our waking, intellectual capacity allows for a superior feeling towards other creatures in nature and can make it difficult to accept some of our destructive inclinations. Several of Dybvig’s drawings seem concern themselves with these topics by various degrees of severity and humor.
The Kempinski Suite (2005) is one example of how Dybvig explores lighter elements of personalities while simultaneously examining a more complex side of human nature. The work is a series of small drawings of different characters. Each drawing features a single person, and the figures are seemingly unrelated other than the means by which they are drawn. They inhabit their own sheet of paper with their own, individual characteristics and personalities. In this manner, the drawings feel more like a portrayal of satirical characteristics rather than real-life people. Dybvig has a great ability to draw out characteristics and put these front and center, rather than attempting to give a full and well-rounded portrayal of someone. These drawings are reminiscent of Dybvig’s book illustrations (which is how I felt about several of the best works in this show) – understated and charming.