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The reflective painter

Vebjørn Sand, showing off a painting.
Vebjørn Sand, showing off a painting. Photo by Trym Gulla Dyrnes

Painter Vebjørn Sand is currently showing the exhibition “The individual choice,” and is trying to understand why things were as they were during World War II.

— I am essentially a figurative painter. Body and anatomy, those are my areas. But many of the images in this exhibition are so big and heavy that I had to bring some other types of images so that it would be possible to breathe a little, he explains.

He asks if I’ve heard about Helge Ingstad.
— That there is a portrait of him, he says, pointing to a large picture of an older man behind him. He was the one who found out that the Vikings discovered America five centuries before Columbus.

Heaven and Hell

Sand is very conscious of his relationship with painting.
— Henrik Ibsen wrote that to be a poet is to take up arms against the troll in the heart and brain the brain. The art of painting can also do this. As Edvard Munch said; «With brush and palette one can go to heaven and hell.” I would say that after music painting is the most complex and richest, the most nuanced way to communicate as a human being. Music can take us to another place and seize us emotionally …

He snaps his fingers.

— … very shortly. The same is true for painting. It is is an extremely high-grade, subtle way in which to communicate as a human being. Therefore, I can get into the room of the soul and psyche that only music can.
He stops, thinks for a moment.

— And also the literature and all other arts, of course, but film is a meeting between all other art forms, so it penetrates very, very deeply. But then, painting has an ability to convey sensuality that few other arts have.

He sits in the attic at Kristiansten Fortress. Here he tells enthusiastically about the German soldier Josef Schultz, who allegedly sacrificed his life for refusing to kill hostages. Schultz is a central source of inspiration in the painter’s last exhibition.

— I’ve thought about the ideals that lived in the people I have portrayed. If you’re going to go to your death for something, what are the ideals for which you’d be willing to do that? You’re a young man and have your whole life ahead of you. If one thing or another happened, and you were willing to sacrifice your life – then those should be fairly big. Which ideals was it that lived inside the minds of these young people in Germany? Or in Europe? Or here at home in Norway? When we were occupied from nineteen forty to forty-five, what did we have to defend ourselves with? Young people like you were shot right down here, he says, pointing out the window at Kristiansten Fortress. Why were they shot, what was it they fought for? Do you know?

— Freedom, I reply somewhat uncertainly.


Freedom is something that means a lot to Sand. He says the idea of ​​the free human being comes from the Greeks.

— Pope Benedict held a famous speech in Berlin in 2011 where he reminded us about the thoughts that have shaped us as free, western people. Our identity is formed from three cities, he said. Do you know which cities they are? They are Athens, Jerusalem and Rome. From Athens we have got the idea of ​​democracy and the free philosophy. From Jerusalem, we have received the Jesus’ ethics of love, which is absolutely revolutionary. That all people are of equal worth, regardless of race, gender or class is supreme humanistic thinking. From Rome comes Roman law, ie the principles of the modern constitutional state. These impulses have made it so that we, a couple of years ago, could celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Constitution of 1814.

Sand is engaged, speaks without respite and gestures vehemently.

— World War II was an arena where all these forces were played out in a completely incomprehensible way, on a scale with consequences for how we came to understand man, politics, psychology, and medical science. In many ways modern man was reinvented. Being able to travel into this big field, trying to understand how Western culture could collapse so completely in the middle of Europe, a Europe that had given birth to Goethe and Johann Sebastian Bach, these are questions that all art and literature are constantly centered around. Every year big titles are released concerning World War II. But it is virtually not touched by painters. And that is weird.


Sand takes me down to the ground floor. When he goes down there among the images he is everywhere, all the time.

— Here is an image from Antarctica. It is a mountain that shoots up through the ice, he says.

He is on the other end of the room now, pointing to a large painting of mountains that seem to go into each other, as if there are several mountains inside a mountain.

— This mountain has been very important to me, and I have developed several projects based on it. Here I am in Antarctica, painting. This phenomenon is called nunataks. When I returned to Norway I worked together with those who made the opening ceremony at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994. We set up ten nunataks behind Frognerseteren in Oslo, and in them I exhibited paintings from my three trips to Antarctica. Then I got hundred and seventy thousand people up to watch them. I have also made the Kepler star at Gardermoen consisting of twenty such peaks, where the castle I put up during the Olympics has become a tower, he says proudly.

Sand is, naturally, also concerned with geometry.

— The twenty pyramid towers are coming out of a so-called ikos. This goes back to antiquity. Plato describes the five Platonic solids, which the soul must take up in order to raise the truth. The star at Gardermoen is thus not just any star, it is a Kepler Star, for Kepler tried finding Plato’s sixth solid, that is, he tried to find out if there was another one. Instead he found the star, he says.

As a former art student, Sand is concerned with and involved in students, and would very much like students to come and see the exhibition.

— The first time I had collected money for an interrail ticket I was sixteen years old, and then I went around in Europe to see art. I wanted to see Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rubens “live”. To be able to come and see the brushstrokes, then being able to take a step back … visual art is something that should be viewed very slowly. Modern people see thousands, millions of images every day, for instance on the internet. Most are images that are made very quickly and disappear very fast. But the images you see around you here are images that are made very slowly, and some of them have taken years to create. They should be digested very slowly. Therefore art and paintings communicate in a completely different way compared to other types of images, he concludes.

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