Bengt Lindström

"You have to do a lot if anything is going to be good!"

Bengt Lindström was never destined to become a mainstream artist. After just three weeks at the College of Arts, Crafts & Design in Stockholm, Bengt dropped out. He could not bear the thought of a future as a drawing teacher. Instead, his education would consist of travel experiences and studying the work of other artists. He commenced his development in Stockholm, and then went on to Copenhagen, Chicago and Paris. His experiences helped him develop his own style–a unique style that would make him recognized all over the world. Bengt’s initial enrollment at the College of Arts, Crafts & Design was a compromise with his parents, who wanted their son to become a doctor. Bengt was determined to become an artist from an early age. He discovered painting while attending school in Härnösand, a small city on Sweden’s east coast. After daily lessons in chemistry, physics and biology, he took out his pencils and paintbrushes to labor at his true calling.

In the early years, Bengt was inspired by local Norrland artists, and tried to live up to the legend associated with their work: The artist should find his motif in the wilderness, isolated from civilization, bearing only a rucksack of paints and canvasses.

Paradoxically, it was in Paris, as far from wilderness as he could possibly get, that he found the insight he was searching for.

After his record short stay at the College of Arts, Crafts & Design, Bengt studied under Isaac Grünewald in Stockholm for a year. Grünewald was one of the pioneers of Swedish modernism and had himself studied under influential artists such as Matisse. Bengt found inspiration here. He abandoned the Norrland landscape motifs and tried to develop a modern style. During this period he was strongly inspired by Picasso, Matisse and other prominent artists in the modernist movement. When the Second World War ended, Bengt was able to travel outside of Sweden. He studied in Copenhagen at the Academy of Art under Aksel Jørgensen during 1945–1946. There he first experienced contemporary art by the basic expressions and myths of what later became COBRA. Subsequently, he crossed the Atlantic to Chicago, where Chicago Art Institute provided for new insights through the abstract expressionism of Pollock and De Kooning. But it was Paris that attracted him, as Paris once again became the international centre for arts and culture.

After spending a year in Chicago, the dream of France was to become reality. In the summer of 1947, Bengt arrived in Paris with nothing but a few dollars he had won in nightly card games with other artists and shady characters from Chicago’s underworld.

Life in Paris suited Bengt Lindström perfectly. He finally found his place in the world, and Paris became his new home.

André Lhote and Fernand Léger were Bengt’s teachers in France. The first years in Paris were tough. Bengt was extremely productive but sold almost nothing. If it had not been for the annual summer exhibitions in Härnösand and regular contributions from his parents, he would have had no money at all. During this time Bengt was searching for his style, and he experimented with a large variety of techniques. In the mid 1950, collage was the dominant technique. Bengt tried working in mosaics for a year, only to change entirely to silkscreen printing the next year. His exhibitions received poor reviews. Bengt was forced to paint in black and white during this period because he could not afford to buy colours. If he unexpectedly got hold of a few colours, he mixed them with leftover powdered paint to stretch them out.

The turning point came in the late 1950s, when a British art dealer who traveled to Paris looking for “unusual” artists bought a stack of his paintings. With the money earned from this first sale, Bengt Lindström was finally able to paint the way he wanted to. The first thing he did was to buy proper paints and canvasses. Thick layers of yellow, red, green and blue replaced the black and white; and due to his increasingly strong brushstrokes the paintings acquired a new dimension. The abstract and expressionistic quality of his pictures became more obvious. The landscape paintings gradually dis appeared, replaced by the mask-like, distorted faces and later, the Nordic mythology that has charac terized his art ever since. Abandoning correct anatomy and representation and instead concentrating on colours and texture, Bengt had found his way to articulate the primitive and violent qualities that he had been searching for in the mountains and forests of northern Sweden. Due to their frenzied combination of composition and colours, Bengt Lindström’s paintings emerged on a borderland between inner complexity and outer simplicity.

The artist who was born in Storsjö Kapell in Härjedalen, a village with less than 200 inhabitants, now became famous in large parts of the world. During the 1960s, he forged a position for himself as one of the greatest practitioners of contemporary Swedish art, with exhibitions in cities such as Paris, London, Brussels, Cincinnati and Tokyo. Bengt became particularly highly regarded in Southern Europe. In Italy he was given the nickname “Vento del Nord” (North Wind) because of his vivid colours and strong brushstrokes. Many people as sociated his style with Sami culture.

Bengt was an extremely productive artist and held several exhibitions per year in various locations throughout the world. In a landmark exhibition, he showed his series of Aesir gods at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm in 1983. The exhibition consisted of seven gigantic canvases, each 2 by 3 meters, depicting the old Nordic gods in Bengt’s typical frenzied style. His increasing fame led to various notable commercial commissions, among others from Volvo. He designed the sluice gates at the Akkat power station outside Jokkmokk, the oil storage tanks in Örebro and the 30,5 meters high Y-shaped sculpture at Midlanda airport outside Sundsvall/Timrå. In the documentary film “Lindström – a hell of a feeling for colour and form”, Bengt Lindstrom comments on his life as an artist and his output during the past 60 years: “Yes,good Lord, what a lot of shit I produced. But you have to do a lot if anything is going to be good!”