Norwegian artist and musician Magne Furuholmen’s exhibition Peeling a Glass Onion – on display at Dovecot Gallery and centred on a tapestry Furuholmen created in collaboration with weavers from Dovecot’s tapestry studio – is a dichotomous alphabet soup of spirited oil paintings, intricate in their layered construction, ceramic objects that resemble rumpled cigarette butts, and subversive, abstracted self-portraits.
The tapestry, called ‘Glass Onion’ after the John Lennon song, and the paintings – most of which take their titles from Beatles tunes – feature scrappy block letters that loom over solid, dual-toned, or gradient backgrounds. Echoing the tapestry’s name, o’s and g’s recur frequently in uppercase and lowercase permutations, contributing a cohesiveness to the body of works. The woven piece itself bares these letters, its o, white with a black core, resembling both the titular succulent and an omnipresent, Emersonian eyeball.
Further, Furuholmen’s palette, largely permeated with oranges, blues, purples, and blacks, adds a density and depth to the fanciful collection. But it is not the colours alone, stratified as they are, that give sophistication to the pieces. Paintings such as ‘Norwegian wood (remix)’ are embedded with bits of Beatles lyrics such as ‘this bird has flown’. On some works, including ‘Gone’, fragments of phrases (like ‘I will find ways […]’) repeat cryptically, reflecting the definitive opaqueness of Beatles songs and the abstruse nature of Furuholmen’s own art.
The pieces in Peeling a Glass Onion also possess a political dimension, as Furuholmen was working on the tapestry during the recent independence debate. Hence, the word ‘peeling’ could be parsed vis-à-vis unpacking one’s political ideology. ‘Oh Scotia’ most clearly addresses the question of Scottish nationalism. A ‘g’ and ‘b’ float above the words of the painting’s name and seemingly denote Great Britain. The ‘Oh’ mirrors the ‘g’s’ inky colour, while the ‘Scotia’ is multihued, suggesting the mishmash of elements that comprise a person’s – or a country’s – character.
Though less visually-stimulating than the paintings, the tubular structures, cheekily called ‘Literary Constructs’, are emblazoned with Delphic-like phrases (‘I unsee to see more clearly’) and lexical lists (‘Causal, cross, currents […]’). Alone, the concrete sculptures, more ambiguous perhaps than the paintings, are blandly understated. However, they are redeemed by their physical proximity to their sister series, Literary, a monotype print suite. The stark prints feature images of the sculptures, paired with loaded words such as ‘desire’.
The portraits on display, primarily black and white, grapple with the ways in which artists attempt to delineate their identity on canvas. Consider, for instance, ‘Myself as a failed painting’. Its block letters call to mind the Beatles-inspired works, but their diagonal placement, in conjunction with illegible words and spots that appear to have been smudged or erased, convey the messy frustration of being unable to articulate oneself.
Peeling a Glass Onion, like the Fab Four’s music, is complexly layered. At first glance, it can be all too easy to dismiss Furuholmen’s works as esoteric. However, when viewing his pieces in relation to one another, and in relation to the tapestry around which the exhibit is organized, the wisdom he ensconces in brushstrokes and concrete is put into relief, more poetically in some cases than in others.