The observation of the works created in Antibes by Anna-Eva Bergman between 1973 and 1987, can easily disconcert the art historian. In the works of the previous years, the surface of the paintings looked strange as if some kind of intensity originated from the diffuse rays of light produced by the metal leaf, but the eye could nevertheless recognize a concept of painting which could be related, maybe too easily, to the French abstraction of the 1950s. The paintings created by Anna-Eva Bergman in Antibes transcend standard categories. They cannot be grasped through the linear reading of art history with its succession of artistic trends. These works challenge what is familiar, they present us with an unknown pictorial territory and resist any classification.
When, in 1973, the artist, together with Hans Hartung, left the residence in rue Gauguet in Paris in order to live in Antibes, it was to settle in a studio, the design of which was tailored to her needs. In Paris, Bergman already had at her disposal a sizeable space which encouraged her to work on large formats, a fact that she herself observed. The studio in Antibes did not stand out in terms of floor space but it had functional qualities with its mezzanine reserved for drawings and a vast square space where she painted her canvases. A lot has been written about the layout of the two studios designed by the couple: one studio led into the other, with an empty space in the middle where they would come and look at each other's works on Sundays. We know that Anna-Eva Bergman's studio was smaller because she wanted it to be. But the contrast between the opening towards the sky in Hartung's studio, through which the branches of trees seemed to penetrate the room, and the more telluric opening in Bergman's studio with a view onto the field of olive trees, which sloped down from the house, has mostly gone unnoticed. For the couple, the move to Antibes meant relative solitude and a life entirely dedicated to the creative process. The succession of whole days spent in the studio, only punctuated by the preparation of their respective exhibitions, made up their daily life.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the paintings of Anna-Eva Bergman enjoyed great artistic recognition which had gradually been growing in importance over the course of the previous years. Her exhibition at the Galerie de France in 1968 had garnered critical acclaim. Georges Boudaille, notably, wrote very favourably about her work in Les Lettres françaises and Julien Clay wrote a long article about her prints in the XX° siècle review in 1970. Moreover, the 1960s were also a period of artistic recognition of her work in Norway through a retrospective exhibition set up in 1966 in Oslo and in Bergen. In 1969, Anna-Eva Bergman represented Norway at the Biennale in Sào Paulo. So, it was a double wave of recognition which had commenced and which continued throughout the 70s and 80s. While a series of group exhibitions were held in Europe, the Antibes period was characterized by several significant solo exhibitions in galleries (Noella Gest in Saint-Rémy in 1974, Galerie de France in 1977, Galerie Sapone in 1976 and 1983) but also and above all in the museums of France, Norway and Germany. The exhibition at the Musée d'Art moderne of Paris in 1977 seems to have been a watershed moment in the recognition of Anna-Eva Bergman's work. Yet, it is remarkable that the artist always presented recent paintings and did not consider her hangings so much as retrospectives but as an opportunity to display her work in progress.
However, the arrival in Antibes did not provoke a sharp change in Bergman's work. The major themes, among which the Horizons, which she was to develop later on, had appeared as early as 1960. It is neither a matter of light nor Mediterranean colour which would fit into the art history of the 20th century. The years in Antibes must rather be considered as a journey into the art of painting, a period dedicated to an in-depth exploration and a development of her work - the ridges of the house facing the sea, drawn by Hans Hartung, can incidentally evoke the clear-cut shapes of the small boats which Bergman created in the same years. Large black shapes spread across the canvas, an omen of death in Nordic mythology, but also a sign of an existential adventure. This journey translated into a progressive move towards a simplification of her work. An amazing purity of shapes and means went hand in hand with the choice of larger formats. The artist rid herself of any stylistic tie to a movement or a school.
Consequently, the critics found it awkward to grasp her work which swayed constantly in a tension between pure abstraction and a symbolic representation of the landscape, as Alain Jouffroy described it in 1977 when he perceived simultaneously "an area of colours, independent from the world, and a mirror, more or less symbolic of something else within painting." Likewise, Daniel Abadie said that if Bergman's art of painting "belonged to the Romantic tradition of Nordic painters via the asceticism of her design and the monumentality of her works, she tended in fact towards the opposite, the pure visual fact, the impersonal hallmark of minimalist creations." The reference to the history of Norwegian landscape painting and the Sublime is a means to express connections and to place Bergman's painting in between two traditions: abstract modernism and Romantic landscape painting of Northern Europe. The connection with Norwegian landscape painting does not relate her work to the history of abstract avant-garde but reveals some challenges, notably the dematerialization of shapes through light, the spiritual dimension of the experience of natural phenomena as peculiar as the northern lights. Nevertheless, these links on their own cannot account for the elusory tone of this work which precisely escapes any categorization and its current modernity probably lies in its deep singularity.
From the 1970s, Anna-Eva Bergman started to strip her work of non-essentials which translated first into the simplification of shapes with their neat outlines dividing the entire surface of the painting. The surface of N° 21-1973 Rochers rouges for example, is divided into two zones which seem to fit together and at the same time confront each other, not only by means of a colour contrast but also through the heaviness of the red colour which stands out sharply against the luminous metal leaf. The painting Pentes of 1975 displays the same type of divided surface, even more simplified, which creates two intense antagonistic masses. The fragmentation is not found solely inside the shapes, as in the Finnmark series of the 1960s, but it extends beyond the painting and is found in the majority of her works. Let us think of the Horizons, of course, but also of Montagnes in 1981 and even the Barques motif which splits the surface into several fragments. This transformation involves the creation of an open space in which the shape is no longer included within a background and within a painting, but exceeds the limits to continue beyond the canvas like the lines in Horizons which spread across the surface from one edge to the other. This shift from centring the composition to exceeding the confines of the painting is manifest in one of her first works from 1973, Frame with a more narrative effect but at the same time, tends to free itself from it. While Bergman's painting is not the product of a discontinuous process but rather stems from a slow maturation, it is possible, with this in mind, to consider the Pierres de Castille series, a work on paper from 1970, as a watershed moment of this shift from a closed space to an open space which will then be fully asserted. Moreover, it is significant that this change would be translated into drawings which constituted a major area of exploration for the artist, as working on paper allowed for a rapidity which her pictorial practice did not permit. If one compares these black shapes with those in the works from 1952s, which were also on paper, one could immediately perceive the out-of-centre. composition but also a larger space of which the sheet of paper is only a fragment and where black masses meet. The open space which is progressively put in place in Bergman's painting from the 1960s and which is clearly noticeable in the Antibes period, echoes American abstract expressionism. It must be comprehended as a rejection of the composition within a painting which was a feature of French abstract painting in the post-war period. It is worth painting out that Anna-Eva Bergman had a good knowledge of American painting which she had discovered during her first stay in New York with Hans Hartung in 1964, which would be followed by a second stay in 1966. She particularly emphasized her interest in the works of Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt. When one is confronted with the Horizons, Barnett Newman's paintings corne to mind immediately as if the human verticality of the zip had tipped over to meet the horizontality of the landscape. But beyond formal similarities and differences, the issue is a transformed relationship with the painting which Georges Boudaille had incidentally grasped in his article concerning the exhibition at Galerie de France in 1968, when he wrote that Anna-Eva Bergman's large formats were becoming "environments." This transformation of the pictorial space engages a new relationship with the painting which is no longer a closed and autonomous surface in which shapes become, as it were, signs within the frame, but a space which gives itself physically and immediately to the onlooker and tends to absorb him or her: what Meyer Shapiro, when speaking about American painting, summarized as a shift from communication to a communion with the painting.
Bergman's work must be observed in the light of the history of modernity which broke away from easel painting. For that matter, it was associated with the American artists' works during the exhibition at Fondation Maeght in 1968 which introduced the second generation of American artists linked with Minimalism. Nonetheless, in addition to a space deprived of partitions, Anna-Eva Bergman's work displays a real depth in the pictorial texture itself which, one should note, is specific to her work and is in opposition to Barnett Newman's work or Rothko's thin coat of paint. The ethereal radiance of the metal leaf contrasts with the thickness of the surface, of its different layers. This thickness is the paint itself in the first place with the use of the modelling paste associated with acrylic from the 1960s. The relief of colour is scraped, thus producing folds, lines and shapes which catch the light of the metal leaf on the painting. From within these crushed fiat surfaces, the emerging thickness results from superimposed layers, the various levels of which do not cover each other entirely. In N° 15-1976 Nunatak I, the black shape and the strip of oxydized copper are literally squeezed between a reserved white area where the weft of the canvas shows and a strip of white paint incompletely covering the metal leaf. Similarly in N° 31-1975 Horizon noir, the thin white strip at the base of the painting echoes the white in the upperpart while remaining distinct from it by means of the heaviness of the black colour which it covers. This intricate relationship between above and below results in a dialectic of proximity and distance as if these two ways of perceiving the world were complementary: one corresponds to the immediacy of the sense of touch while the other is essentially visual and more immaterial. This double perception of the world has something in common with the Romantic landscape. In addition to the characters in Caspar David Friedrich 's painting The Chalk Cliffs of Rügen,
their contemplative attitudes refer, in the Romantic approach, to a correspondance between all elements, and between the emotions of the soul and nature. If Anna-Eva Bergman's paintings rule out the sensation of perspective, they bring into play a modified perception of distance through painting. For example, in the Montagnes or Horizons multipleseries, the brightness of metal seems to head for the black colour, as if suspended above the materiality of the painting, a relation which one is immediately tempted to interpret as the spirit revealing itself in matter. Historical filiations come to mind, be it Nordic painting or the medieval use of gold leaf in religious art works, but they should not mask the complex interweaving of spirituality and matter. In 1948, Bergman wrote: "The spirit is indeed a reality as it can manifest itself in matter. The absurd anthroposophical popular idea according to which the world of spirit is made up of curious spheres within reach of a few people only, must be refuted. But the materialistic idea which considers the spirit as nonsense, superstition, metaphysical subsconcious, nothingness, must also be rejected. It is absolutely necessary to bridge the divide between these two conceptions." Bergman's paintings are not the products of any ontological dualism (the strict separation between the ideas and the world) but they summon what is ineffable and sensible by means of a tension between the material weight of colour and luminosity, the mingling of layers and materials. The world perceived as a unity, the fusion within the work and beyond, between the visible and the invisible, could associate Bergman 's work to a Romantic posterity.
The very depth of the thickness in Bergman 's paintings appears fully at the junction of shapes, in their outlines, and in some of her paintings, the undercoats are visible. The line becomes the expression of a depth rising up to the surface and upsetting the layout of the large fiat areas of colour. The surface appears as a transitory state or, at least, as the result of a gradual development of the work. In this way, the painting is no longer defined as a space only but as a duration within that space, the time of an experience - a reference to the distinction Bergson made between time and duration - translating into materiality, into the peculiar density of Bergman's works, like a sedimentation. Let us note that Anna-Eva Bergman worked on a horizontal canvas - the photographs taken in the studio show that she worked simultaneously on several paintings, raised on trestles. This means that the painting is no longer a surface on which the artist projects something but rather a surface on which to lay something down, and it is literally true as far as the metal leaf is concerned. Yet, it is precisely the trace of the image in the memory which is laid down in the materiality of the painting and transforms itself with it.
The experience of duration within the painting must in fact be related to a longer time scale in which memory becomes an essential dimension of the work. While the paintings created in Antibes refer, for the most part, to the landscapes of Norway and more specifically to Cape North where the artist went in 1964, it is interesting to note that she painted some landscapes of the South of France when she stayed in Norway during the war as if distance-which engages memory- was absolutely necessary to her. Duration is also part of the lengthy development of the motifs, their resurgence, their gradual metamorphosis. The mountains can be associated with earlier works with the same theme. It is also the case with the first Horizon, created in 1962, but the artist will make the most of this theme throughout the 1970s. For that matter, the artist periodically developed a range of shapes among which are found the various motifs which she used. Bergman's exhibitions are testament to the recurring motifs, the constant work on series, and their gradual metamorphosis. In Galerie Sapone, the small format artworks from the Barques series are placed next to each other while a photograph which Bergman took in a 1979 exhibition in Norway, clearly establishes a link between a Montagne, dating from the 1960s, which displays a real pictorial materiality, and a Montagne, created in 1978, reduced to a black line across a white surface. This bears witness to a passage between the two paintings but also a transformation and a movement towards the simplicity of the shape. Anna-Eva Bergman's motifs are intimately related to the dimension of memory. The term "motif' is not to be understood as something spreading under the gaze of the painter before being placed on the canvas but rather in its original meaning of "set into motion'', literally what generates the desire to paint our experience of the world. This movement is the memory understood as a transformation process, associated with the emergence of the shape in pictorial materiality.
Therefore, Bergman's painting cannot be defined as an abstraction whose language would be made of autonomous, geometrical or biomorphic signs but more as a pictorial equivalent of an experience of the landscape and, beyond, of the world understood as the junction between the visible and the principle which animates it. Paradoxically, this approach is manifest in the works displaying a repetitive motif.
If the repetitive feature echoes the praxis of the artists in the 1960s, it cannot be reduced to a shape drained of its substance but rather stems from a sensible experience. In this way, the early shapes of the repetitive drawings of a spiral are to be directly related to the Dome of the Alhambra which the artist photographed in 1962. The lines repeated throughout the height of the sheet of paper refer to the sea by means of their title. Finally, Pluies, these very singular artworks, display repeated dots made of metal leaf, similar to finger prints. Dots and lines do not appear as pure shapes but as primary shapes permeated by a specific perception of the world. A painting is a sensitive surface on which these primary shapes are laid down and resemble the natural traces of the rain on the ground. What makes Anna-Eva Bergman 's works contemporary "after the fact", in other words, after the modernist categorizations, appears clearly in the repetitive works. These remind me of some contemporary artists' work in which the sign does not convey purity but settles, beyond abstract and figurative art,in an experience of the senses which determines its own necessity. There is no doubt that the rediscovery of the works created by Anna-Eva Bergman in Antibes will inspire new filiations within modernity and will avoid categories which have today proven to be far too restrictive.