A vault above our heads following a curve slowly descending until it stumbles on the horizon, far away in front of us: despite our knowledge about the infinite physical world, it is in the form of an embracing limit that the sky spreads out above our heads, which is probably the most deeply rooted spatial sensation we all have. Ouranos and Gaia, sky and earth: on this initial reunion depends the history of our relationship with the world which we experience whenever we move around.
And yet, be it top and bottom, sky and sea, the junction between these two elements is never the same. According to where you live on earth, their contact produces incredibly varied visions which afford unceasingly changing feelings of openness or closure. The Mers photograph series by Hiroshi Sugimoto taken throughout the 1980s and 1990s testifies to this: all the seas in the world appear to us to display the same structure despite important or subtle differences: the horizon. Is there something hidden under the horizon to confer on it such a distinct aspect, depending on where you stand? In Anna-Eva Bergman's work, magnitude is as much a tricky issue as the specificity of the horizon. Why do the sky and the sea appear so large in America, a little less in Norway and a lot less in Europe? How to explain the fact that the sky can be said to be "grand" in such and such place in the world (in Texas for example) and not elsewhere, although the sky is just as clear in that place? We are under the impression that nature contains her own magnitude and in our attempt to find a relation between these grand spaces and ourselves, we have to summon a whole army of concepts to express this contact between the world and our sensitivity: Stimmung, atmosphere, ambience, light, oceanic sensation, sublime, etc ... But the majesty of nature cannot easily be framed by the painting format; its inherent power is relayed by the artist through a long process of simplification of forms and materials.
These remarks lead us to pay greater attention to the Antibes period of Anna-Eva Bergman, a Norwegian painter who lived in Norway, Vienna, Germany, Minorca, Italy and in Paris before settling on the Côte d'Azur from 1973 until her death in 1987. The works created in Antibes during this long phase of her life which was to be the last, bear witness to the concentration of the artist on the major themes which she had already been exploring for some years. In a word, large natural phenomena and the expansive scenery of nature would now form the core of her work; what could appear to be the concentration on a few forms turned out to be the ground of precise experiments in which the artist used the sensitive radicalism of her approach to confront magnitude and movement.
Abstraction and Einfühlung
The great revelation of Anna-Eva Bergman's work, dating from the 1950s, is indeed the paradoxical similarity of the laws ruling both the art of painting and nature. One task of the artist was to work hard to make this similarity visible.
For her, each form contains its own system and this explains why some sets of natural phenomena have become the themes of her work (lakes, mountains, horizons, waves, rain, crenels, rocks, capes, summits, cliffs, nunataks, small boats, planets, slopes, water, spaces, etc.). Each set displays a similar structure developed in various colours, formats, mediums. If we take the rocks as an example: four paintings, four different formats, four variations on the same motif, high rectangles, sometimes black, sometimes blue or red, brushing against the upper edge of the canvas and placed against a silvery or dark blue background. The rectangular shapes, which are never vertical, stretch or lean slightly (N° 16-1975 Fente), or sometimes rest on an invisible pedestal (N° 21-1973 Rochers rouges). They can also emerge directly onto the canvas with a consistent background (N° 15-1975 Rocher sauvage) and in front of other shapes (N° 24-1981). This testifies to the exploration of the whole system of laws created by the artist herself which she committed to paper in notebooks. But the transition from forms described in a notebook to the rocks of Norway requires a long artistic process. Yet how surprising it is to see the large rectangular shapes turning into huge blocks of rocks which seem to feel uneasy within the confines of the frame. Their mass is all the more impressive as they are abruptly dissected by cliffs against contrasting skies. How can one move so swiftly from the laws of a geometrical structure to a painting of nature? Geometrical shapes change into large silhouettes which, in turn, face each other, break up or jut out in front of other colours which transform into backgrounds. Subtly, while these rocks assume a prevailing position with their powerful mass, we are compelled to lean over the ravine opened by the figures, to look at the water delimited by the outline, to observe the nature and the colour, the undercoats of paint and the incline of the cliffs, thus grasping simultaneously the laws of the composition of the painting and the natural areas of the Far North.
The photographs which Anna-Eva Bergman took during her two boat trips in the North of Norway constitute iconic sources of her work. Some of them were certainly used as models for her paintings. These photographs corroborated her feeling that what she saw in a natural environment, these large typical landscapes of the North, followed the same laws as the abstract shapes on which she worked when she was pursuing research on the Golden section. Harmony was not only a mathematical notion, she saw it also in nature, in the relation she perceived between the sky and the earth. A well-proportioned construction could appear in the sensitive realm, revealed by powerful cosmic structures which the artist only needed to strip of any local specificity.
So the Einfühlung, the pleasure we take in imitating physical phenomena, shared the same structure as abstraction! For Worringer, who brought into opposition the two origins of art, civilisations which chose mimetic representation never included abstract patterns in their ornamental art. Life, that is to say nature, as opposed to form and rythm: this was the presupposition which Worringer assumed. Bergman asserted quite the opposite as she thought that the two major sources of art respond to each other and interlock: a line is always the trace of a limit (the limit of water, of a rock, of the sky), a coloured surface always bears witness to the massive power of natural elements. How deeply moved Bergman must have been when she became aware that large phenomena complied with the laws of abstraction on a flat surface, a discovery that would then dictate the way she would approach her painting project for the rest of her life.
Conversely, it is rather difficult to make a photographic reproduction of Anna-Eva Bergman's work. The large silvery plans systematically reflect the lights of the exhibition room, the blue colour becomes as black as ink, washes disappear, the trembling effect of the limits slips under the monumental outline of the shapes. Sensitive elements no longer show. Minute observation, close up viewing and concentration are required to render the perception of the wobbling movement of a rock possible again. In fact, the photographs could make one think of minimalism as far as Bergman's painting is concerned but this would mean missing a number of texture effects which the artist liked to use according to the selected medium: sometimes fluffy canvasses, sometimes perfectly smooth cardboard surfaces. When she enriched the texture of surfaces by means of the modelling paste, the creamy paste she would use as an undercoat to obtain the relief of the Rains, of the Waves (N° 27-1974) or the Seas (N° 3-1975 Espace argent) and when she softened the reflections of silver by covering them with a thin blue wash (N° 25-1975 Falaise), she set to work on a new definition of materiality which was forced upon her by what she saw. Finding the expression of this intimate relationship between the structure of nature in the Far North and a simplified range of shapes has been the essential purpose of Anna-Eva Bergman's work throughout her life in Antibes.
Slowing and accelerating
For Anna-Eva Bergman, colour or materials do not refer to fixed elements, as in a large conversion table. Therefore, the silvery strip in the lower part of a number of paintings (for example N° 31-1975 Horizon noir, N° 15-1976 Nunatak I) recalls more the sea than a piece of ground covered with snow and the same strip can be placed in the center of the composition to represent the horizon. Similarly, dark blue does not systematically represent the night (N° 19-1981 Double horizon), it can also give reality to a mountain (N° 3-1982 Montagne sombre), colour the water (N° 6-1982), the air (N° 25- 1987), or become the horizon (N° 58-1979 Un horizon). The plasticity of the elements and the colours is such that they come into contrast with the range of shapes established by the artist. It brings peculiar kinetics in Bergman's work which upset the feeling of robustness of the massive shapes and disrupts the anticipated contemplation. The purpose of Anna-Eva Bergman's art of painting is to impart movement to immense blocks of rock, to show the slow motion of the glaciers, to make the barely perceptible light sparkle in dark landscapes (which are dark half of the year and not only at night). She resorted to several means to achieve this end.
The most tangible of these consists in rendering the movement visible by means of spinning circular patterns. The Waves, for example, present themselves in the form of big rolls, simply represented by circles succeeding each other over the width of the canvas. By means of an expansion movement from the left to the right of the painting, they manage to give the impression that the roll started and will die out away from the painting but will continue to exist forever. Set in motion by repetition, as in the ocean, the Waves painted by Bergman materialize the movement of the rolls while suggesting that their form is imparted by an invisible force. The blowing wind (N° 14-1975 Mistral), a climatic phenomenon which is impossible to represent literally except indirectly through its effects on water (or on fabrics, an effect greatly appreciated by Aby Warburg), as well as the Waves and the Seas, are specific to the Antibes period. She experimented with a form of mobility which explores not only the width of the canvas - like surfers, we glide under a big wave (N° 23-1975) - but also the height with, notably, her first attempts at gradation (N° 49-1973 Vague baroque). The painting N14-1975 Mistral, the form of which is close to the Vagues-lignes, plays with another contrast, proximity and distance. In the series of the Vagues-lignes, one becomes aware that the multiplication of horizontal lines, silvery and wavy, lead to the Seas, which are particularly present here in the works on paper. Spreading over the whole surface, these drawings display the skill of the artist's hand and the jubilation of the body which lays paint on the canvas.
Is a painting a freeze-frame? One would have probably said no if the meteorological phenomena painted by Anna-Eva Bergman had not retained such a powerful trace of the movement which created them. The Pluies for example, made with pieces of gold and silver leaf laid on the canvas with a brush, evokes painted fingerprints as well as "drops" flitting around freely on the surface of the painting or the white sheet of paper. The artist's intention made it a pictorial phenomenon, while the rain, by definition, cannot be circumscribed by a line. It is amazing to see the extent to which Bergman favoured phenomena which escaped any shaping by virtue of their nature (wind, rain, wave), all the more so as she had started a career with the drawing of caricatures in which the real audacity of the line made it particularly expressive. Following in the wake of Paul Klee who had also produced a lot of caricatures at the beginning of his career, she remarkably freed herself from the technique of creating images in order to experiment systematically with the rhythm of a few figures on a flat surface. While the paint drops formed by the rain bear witness to the gesture which produced them, they also obligate onlookers to tilt their gaze when looking at vertically swirling drops or at splattered water drops on the ground.
The serene contemplation of the massive shapes can be unsettled by a closer look. If, from a distance, the lines seem to delineate imposing masses in competition with backgrounds and raking lights, at closer range, it is surprising to see to what extent the lines defining the shapes appear unstable. Never perfectly straight, never accurately lined up with the motif, they allow the preparatory layers as well as the blue pastel line which the artist used to make her preliminary shapes, to rise to the surface. The uncertainty of the elements is made more intense by the discreet movement which enlivens the coloured surfaces: a simple change in the light in the exhibition room suddenly reveals the many brushstrokes which have made the painting (N° 25-1981 Lac II). On a smooth surface, the artist let her materials slide so the painting would come out entirely smooth too; in contrast, on a fluffy surface, she erased nothing and exploited the capacity of the strips and the superimposed paint layers to retain light. An action which is heightened by the specific materials Anna-Eva Bergman would choose. Sometimes smoothed, sometimes visible in a grid pattern, the gold or silver leaf reflects, absorbs or projects a constantly changing light on the painting. In addition to this movement in the reflections inspired by the Medieval illuminations which the artist valued greatly, she used the more modern vibrancy of oxidized copper. Let us compare N 12-1974 Horizon ocre et argent and N 12-1975 Terre ocre avec - ciel dor and let us see to what extent the dynamics of the copper coloured sheet shows a marked difference with the intensity of the silver leaf: the sun really seems about to rise above the horizon and heat the earth. But iridescence is not the only property of the copper sheet. It turns into a mineral too in N 18-1974 Cap d'Antibes or can become an abstraction as in Pentes. The ornamental pattern of the copper-coloured sheets gives the surface a specific movement because of the differences in the way the sheet catches the light. Rothko's later works also explored powerful contrasts within the same painting by reducing it to the superimposition of two strips running across the width, with a bottom strip in a clear, nearly translucent tone, in which the movement of the brush could be perceived in contrast with a dense black upper part. "An excess of brightness generates darkness and the intensity of diaphanousness leads to opacity" according to Baldine Saint Girons. The works of Anna-Eva Bergman hold the power to make the onlooker feel the passage of time within immense spaces. The dark masses are set into motion in a manner which is barely visible to the naked eye, but we know that, on a wholly different scale, these mountains and fjords are affected by powerful laws of transformation over the various seasons - and in Norway particularly with the varying ratio of daylight and dark ness - which causes deep changes. in them. In this respect, the small boats render the motion forward into the night visible: the powerful shapes set off slowly, as is evident from the tipping mast (N 37-1893 Demi-barque) or the close framing of the boat which fits the entire surface of the painting and seems to - be able to drift towards some very low horizon (N 20-1978 Barque noire sur fond rouge). Conversely, this cosmic temporality which Anna-Eva Bergman succeeded in making tangible seems, in other paintings, to be subjected to breathtaking accelerations. Plunging rock faces are rendered most effectively: the cracks and the rocks, framed throughout their height as far as the upper edge of the painting, take a steep dive when the shape is arbitrarily out (N 16- 1975 Fente) or spring up unexpectedly, further to a recent eruption (N 4-1981); one tries very hard to reach the top again, scrambling up in order to dive over and over again into silvery abysses. Is the earth dividing itself or should one try to step across the gap? Anyhow, the space in between the surfaces assumes as much importance as the masses themselves. Sculptural and architectural, the negative space serves the purpose of the whole construction as much as the materials themselves.
Deeply influenced by architecture, the artist is an expert at designing gaps in between shapes so that the tensions between the elements transform into a dazzling, breathtaking experience. One needs to travel along to see, jump and rub shoulder with matter before continuing one's journey. We suddenly feel like ramblers and absorb Anna-Eva Bergman's paintings through every pore of our skin.
Dreaming of Norway on the Mediterranean
Once she chose to settle in Antibes, Anna-Eva Bergman progressively confirmed the monumentality of her work on Norwegian landscapes. In fact, Antibes gave her a point of view on Norway. It does not mean that her paintings relate to specific places -are they landscapes even? -but she needed to leave her country in order to fantasize about it in her paintings. Anna-Eva Bergman returned to these remote landscapes, in time and space, the way she would return to her essential origin as it was when she lived there, left behind and then rediscovered. Is not losing and finding again the constitutive gesture of creation?
In 1948, on New Year's eve, she wrote: "To observe oneself, one's particularities and one's nation's particularities, is something you learn only when you distance yourself for some time -when you have learned to see and apprehend the particularities of others and other nations - then you have at your disposal a base for comparison and you can consider all this without prejudice. [ ... ] The authentic path which leads to great, veritable, eternal art, is giving up yourself." In other words giving up Norway and its biographical aspect in order to grasp a new the universal characteristics of the Far North, once you have distanced yourself from it. Because of this separation, the horizons of Norway by Anna-Eva Bergman unceasingly widened thanks to her contact with the Mediterranean. In April 1979, in the middle of the Antibes period, she declared during an interview: "When I dream, it is of Finnmark and the North of Norway. The light makes me ecstatic. Layers seem to appear and give the impression of different spaces simultaneously close and remote. One can see a layer of air between each ray of sun and these air layers create perspective. It is magic". On the Mediterranean, owing to the scorching light, it is arduous to grasp the depth of the landscape which presents itself more like a high wall and the horizon seems to be the place where the plan tips over and becomes vertical. The painting titled N° 18-1974 Cap d'Antibes provides an invaluable landmark to characterize Bergman's horizons: it is one of the few paintings described geographically, the Cap d'Antibes. From the base upwards, six coloured strips, of different widths, caver the canvas horizontally: firstly, a large white strip then a light blue threadlike strip followed by a black strip turning mysteriously into a wide irregular strip of oxydized copper, then a thick wide blue strip reaching up to the four-fifths of the canvas, completed by another white strip reaching the upper edge of the frame. Are the upper and lower part of the landscape motif outlined by purely pictorial white -in order to organize the composition, or are these two white strips part of the landscape? This work is to all appearances more complex than it seems at first glance. Does the blue threadlike strip reflect the sky or the sea? Do the golden rocks (or the sand) emerge from a deep abyss or is the black colour created by their drop shadow? Does the blue originate from the sky or from the sea? The feeling that one constantly goes from one element to another in the painting springs from the emphasized horizontal stretching and the gaze which goes up towards the sky or to the top of the canvas from the base. This cape stretches throughout the width, compared to the Northern capes, abrupt, high and severe; in Antibes, a sort of languor seems to have taken hold of the landscape to the extent of endowing it with delicate and sensual curves and reflections.
The distance between the North of Norway and Antibes enables Anna-Eva Bergman to concentrate on the mystery of bright plans. Now that she has defined her elementary shapes and combines them according to what could be branded as a methodical reverie, she can concentrate on what lies under the shape, on what makes it vibrate. "Something lies deeply buried", wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves. Is that not precisely what strikes us when we look at Bergman's paintings, the thing which is buried under a vibrant surface? Already in her earlier works, because she was a rigorous constructivist, she strove to cover the traces of her drawing with large coloured fiat areas. What troubles the skin of the paintings does not show, only the effects are noticeable: but there, in depth, lies a power which we feel as soon as we manage to detach ourselves from the calm contemplation required by her paintings. An event seems to have occurred in the landscape which continues to emit vibrations but our gaze cannot reach it. Here, some sort of repressed violence shows on the surface and never leaves you, as in Carl Theodor Dreyer or Ingmar Bergman 's movies.
"One foot in the sky, the other well rooted in the ground! Balance!" she wrote in the Notebooks (July 3, 1948). The entire body is involved in these experiments conducted on the other side of the world from another place in the world. Why does Norway 's horizon beget more apparitions from Antibes than in Finnmark itself? The contemplation of the horizon from the point of view of the Mediterranean shores immerses us in fabulous ancient tales, in which Phoenician merchants met Ulysses and the temples overlooking the cliffs shone when heroes came home. In the Mediterranean, stories of men, monsters, mythology and gods abound but unfortunately, and today more than ever, thousands of drowned lives too. The Mediterranean takes on human form, as it were, while the seas in the Far North unceasingly open new perspectives; they show the Earth from multiple angles, where the contact between sky and earth, or between sea and sky can exist in a great number of places. The huge empty spaces, the plains, the mountains, the snow, the night, the cliffs overhanging the water, are as many elements which stimulate an experimentation at the world's end, conducive to a thorough work on the horizon: the only demarcation line which is still tangible within these spaces where light tends to make it arduous to distinguish between the various elements. Distance has become a basic principle of Anna-Eva Bergman's artistic production throughout the later years in Antibes and is evidence of a mysterious process where a unique experiment turns into a continuous creative statement. She lived in these Far North landscapes then moved away from them just to get back to them unrelentingly in her paintings.