Nils Dardel- a very young man, born in 1888, with very modern ideas.
A refined Swedish dandy, in constant fear of death and rejection, creating a world of art that vibrates with colors. His world is on tiptoe between dream and reality, in a fantasy twilight zone populated by eternally young, beautiful and fragile creatures with tiny feet, hardly touching the ground. If you look closely you can glimpse the recuring image of a hunched up grotesque and monkey-like man: The ugly contrast to all this dreamlike beauty. His world is teeming with exotic animals and crimes of passion. Even when he pictures himself as a dying dandy, you can’t help noticing how beautifully arranged his death scene is – complete with silver mirror, luxurious oriental silk, and a rather content little smirk in the corner of his mouth. So very sophisticated, yet so naive.
When I see his paintings, I see so much of today’s young graphic art. I also think of Mark Ryden, Marion Peck, illustrations from Juxtapoz Magazine.
I’ve visited the Stockholm Museum of Modern art numerous times these past ten days, just to walk through the beautiful Nils Dardel exposition. And I keep discovering new things every time.
I walk through a time line of Dardel’s experimenting: Cubism, hues of gray, pointillism, color explosions.
His travels made him discover oriental art, mainly Persian painting, and Japanese wood cuts. He was intrigued by old Japanese folk tales and fables , and populated his paintings with exotic animals, especially monkeys and rabbits. His paintings are personal fantasies, sometimes playful, other times macabre, dealing with his leitmotif, the fear of death, abandon and the hope of love and transgression. His dreamworlds are always refined, elegant , yet naive. He moved swiftly and smoothly along the borderlines between late 19century symbolism and the early modernist 20th century. He embraced the idea that every man had the right to define himself in spite of origin, social status and gender. He renounced of his birth right noble titles. Very much influenced by Oscar Wilde he reinvented himself as a refined dandy, and exposed himself to ridicule due to his bisexuality and effeminate appearance.
He loathed and feared the coarse and ugly. He hated and feared the concept of death and decay and he lived in constant fear of dying due to a severe heart condition. In 1943 he could no longer avoid his greatest fear: On May 25 he died in a hotel room in New York, 54 years old.