‘The trees are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said.’ This fragment from Philip Larkin’s poem The Trees comes to mind continually when spending time with Morten Skrøder Lund’s paintings. Is it that the paintings themselves seem to teeter just on the verge of articulation – almost describing something, then backing away just at the point of making that thing clear – or is it, perhaps, that the fragment itself, the dislocated component, feels like the best way to talk about the paintings? A bit of both, probably, but the poet’s emphasis on the present participle – coming into – stills the appearance of the leaves in the head of the reader just before their moment of revelation. Just before, in other words, they can be named. Skrøder Lund’s paintings similarly hold still at the cusp of language. Marks of the brush, in his paintings, are always almost something. They are thoughts about things just before they harden into words. No wonder they seem composed of patches of nebulous, shifting colour. No wonder imagery appears only ever as partial glimpses on the brink of dissolution.
Nothing in the exhibition is titled, but the exhibition itself is titled ome, a piece of a word from a line in a poem written by Skrøder Lund that he gradually whittled down from seven words into a single syllable. Home, some, dome, come, Rome: in the mind of the reader, the word completes itself (the leaves actually coming into leaf, actually being said), but we circle back, always, to that mysteriously truncated piece of language, disobeying the drive to resolution. So, too, for the paintings themselves. In this one – let’s imagine we’re looking at the same one, even though we might not be; that consistent lack of titling invites us to see all of the paintings as somehow one and the same – colour is built up in patches of like tones (olive green, sky blue, pale plum, grey-green) that jostle alongside each other in dense configurations of brushstrokes, never quite agreeing to settle. As in Philip Guston’s tentative first steps out of the ether of abstraction, the marks of the brush read as something solid slowly coming to the surface. When readable imagery does appear – here, in the face and arms of a male nude, broken into tones of grey and warning-light orange – it continually threatens not to remain what it appears to be, as though quite prepared to return to its surrounding patchwork of gnarled paint. Figuration notwithstanding, no part of the painting claims precedence: everything is equally, assertively there. Rather than hovering between the false poles of figuration and abstraction, Skrøder Lund’s paintings rightly refuse to recognise the distinction. A painting, made of the stuff of the same material world with which the body is made, cannot help but bring an absent human body into near-visibility. Cannot help, too, but abstract the visible. It’s both. Move on.
Ten years or so pass by, and Skrøder Lund unearths a photograph on his laptop: something personal, perhaps forgotten, jolted back into the present. (This is how digitised photographic archives mimic the vagaries of human memory, and how Skrøder Lund’s paintings are most evidently products of their moment). Painting from the photograph might make the photograph more interesting, the artist said to me over a Skype video call that, crumbling into pixels on my laptop screen, kept trying to turn itself into one of his paintings. The fact that the source photograph itself might lack immediate appeal begs the obvious question of choice (why this one and not another?), until you see the paintings themselves, which seem to restate the question: yes, why this one? For instance: a red-haired girl in a blue dress lies amid a field of squiggled marks, like Ophelia floating dead down the river. Colour runs through a reduced spectrum redolent at once of botanical and bodily life, heated by a pulse of deep blues and warm reds, and sits in dense, squirming masses across the surface. In form, no shape in the painting retains solidity for long: it swims away from an eye seeking definition, like a floater on the retina, or a face from the past that suddenly tears at the heart. Skrøder Lund’s paintings, perhaps by virtue of their origins in buried personal history, work against the failings of memory, rage against them, even. See how painted matter, richly worked with a dragged touch, like a face being washed, implies a remembering body, repositioning memory as something felt on the skin. If there’s an oscillation in Skrøder Lund’s work, then, it’s between this dense bodily presence of the marks made and the absence of a language with which to describe them. Something is almost being said, but first, and always, it’s being felt.