A new exhibition of watercolors at the American Swedish Institute is remarkable not just for the quality of the work, but for the size of the work.
The artist, Lars Lerin, may not be a household name in the United States, but at the American Swedish Institute he's a big deal. Just ask communications and marketing manager Laura Cederberg.
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"Lars Lerin is a rock star in Sweden and the Nordic countries, known for his watercolors, his book writing," she said. "He's a huge TV personality. And this is the first time that such a large-scale exhibition of his work has been presented in North America."
The institute has just opened "The Watercolor Worlds of Lars Lerin," an exhibit that features more than 40 monumental works displayed throughout the institute's historic Turnblad Mansion.
Watercolor is often thought of as a hobby art, something retirees do at the lake near their home, said exhibit interpreter Hanna August-Stohr.
"And that is what Lars does," she said. "He often paints the lake outside his home, but he paints it on such a monumental scale ... We have one piece in our Osher gallery that is at least 15 feet long, and another one that is about that same length and of equal height."
Because Lerin's works are so large, he's often forced to work on multiple sheets of paper he's assembled to create a larger canvas. His rendering of a forest of birch trees is so large it almost invites the viewer to take a stroll in it.
Lerin's watercolors are inspired by photographs he's taken, covering a wide range of subjects. Several of the pieces were inspired by dioramas at a natural history museum, others by his travels to India and Iran. Many are layered with writing or other imagery and have a wild, impressionistic edge to them.
August-Stohr said Lerin uses a technique called "wet on wet."
"He essentially sprays down the entire sheet of paper and he uses his pigments in intuitive washes of color in the first few minutes to get that atmospheric quality going on in the background," she explained. "And then he has such a finely detailed quality about the other elements that really make them spectacular."
The Turnblad Mansion and the artwork are striking complements to one another. Lerin's depiction of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles hangs beneath an archway in the Turnblad's ballroom. A watercolor of a mosque adorns a wall just a few feet from the mansion's Moorish Den, which is decorated with Islamic motifs. One entire wall is dedicated to studies of snow and reed grass.
Laura Cederberg said the size of Lerin's major works allows viewers to enjoy a level of detail not possible in smaller watercolors.
"For example, there's a large-scale series of books presented in the Turnblad Mansion library," she said. "And in the 15 feet of watercolor, you're able to look down to the detail of the names of the books on the spine."
The exhibition also includes many of Lerin's smaller works, including a series of still lifes of porcelain and glassware.
Cederberg said the show offers an opportunity for Minnesota audiences to see one of Scandinavia's most dynamic and sought-after artists. While the institute is calling the exhibition Lerin's North American debut, in truth he's had a solo show here before.
"We hosted him 30 years ago," she said, with "a very small show that only hundreds of visitors saw, and we're hoping to introduce his work on a much larger scale to Minnesota, to the Midwest and to North America, again."
The "Watercolor Worlds of Lars Lerin" is at the American Swedish Institute through May 22.