Kjell Torriset (1950, Ålesund) has been residing in Sussex, UK, since the early 1990s. He started his career during the emergence of postmodernism in the early 1980s and is today celebrated as one of Norway´s leading contemporary artist.
Torriset is renowned for his poetic visual language; often fluctuating between abstraction and figuration. The artist’s awareness of art history, architecture, language, literature and philosophy, is often put to use in a rich, multi-voiced vocabulary that absorbs and renegotiates collective symbols and art-historical pathos formulas. The references to this cultural-historical universe become woven into an inner landscape. The direct impulse of drawing is also present in his paintings, which play on a diverse grammar that creates enigmatic constellations.
With exquisite care in the treatment of colour and texture, Torriset gained a central position in the 80s and 90s with the renewal of the importance of the human figure in painting. In images where the surface is layered by soft and glowing landscapes, weightless figures interact with architectural elements and abstract signs. The revitalisation of the naked body during postmodernism was often interpreted as a reversal of a historical figuration that had been driven into exile during modernism. The body in painting was therefore also assigned a mythological dimension where the intention was to expand self-understanding related to the long timelines. This perspective is clearly expressed in Torriset's mythological and art historical references. The longing for a base far beyond our contemporary concerns drew the body into a mythological reserve where it sought refuge from the instrumentalisation of modern society. This civilization-critical perspective was continued and developed in Torriset's paintings from 2004-2011, which show a fragmentary merging of different elements into a new form of mimetic narrative. The relationship between figure, space and surface refer to a greater degree to body portraits that are punctured by plastic pictorial elements. In these works, architectural structures are processed in interaction with the body's vulnerability, which refers to themes such as alienation and transience.
In many of his works, Torriset has been preoccupied with religious iconography, which was made apparent in the National Gallery's exhibition; East-West, (2004) where Torriset chose to include his work in a dialogue with a selection of the museum's collection of Russian icons. By reconstructing an iconostasis on one end wall he mounted a symmetrical wall of his own works opposite, characterized by materiality and abstract pictorial grammar with references to minimalism. On the floor, he placed a white painted cross with dimensions and direct reference to Cimabue's (1240-1302) crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. This dialogue between abstraction and the icon alluded to a new articulation of spiritual or metaphysical content continued in his solo show “Geometry and Flux” (2011) at the Haugar Vestfold Art Museum (Norway) where he repeated the idea with the cross on the floor, but this time the dialogue between abstraction and figuration was created within his own visual universe.
When Torriset works with well-known religious and art-historical motifs, it can be compared to a language that is slowly changing but without losing contact with the root of the word. In this way, new ties are created between the present and the past and a contemporary understanding divorced from history is challenged. The language forms of the past and their continuity can be said to be an important element in Torriset's art, and an example of this is demonstrated in his series Accademia Della Morte-paintings where the Pieta motif is revitalised and given a contemporaneous expression.
In 2005, the artist was invited to exhibit in one of six medieval churches in south-east England. The little church of St Thomas à Becket in Fairfield in Kent, displayed no art other than oval wooden tablets with Bible texts. In this interior, Torriset placed six similar oval text boards, The Fairfield Dialogues (2005), between the existing boards with his own texts translated into Arabic, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. The series went on to be shown in the Old Aker church in Oslo, 2012.
In 2019 Torriset participated in the group exhibition “Metafysica” at Haugar Vestfold Museum of Art. His contribution was the 72-panel paintings
11:11, mounted to cover the exhibition walls from floor to ceiling, a work that articulated an architectural affinity which has characterised many of his monumental public commissions like his large scale project for the new university library in Oslo. The paintings demonstrated a spontaneous and sketch-like approach, with impulsive brushstrokes, in direct contrast to Torriset’s past detail-focused style of painting. Woven into the paintings were religious pathos formulas, signs, landscapes and abstractions, along with everyday scenes such as a sketch of a chair in a dark room, a corner of a house or a portrait of a cabbage, executed in a masterly colouristic manner. The viewer was challenged to decode and left with enigmatic encounters; opening up for new visual conversations between the concrete, the sensual and the metaphysical.
In 1992 Torriset was selected as the official exhibitor at Festspillene in Bergen and in 1999 Torriset’s work was presented in a solo exhibition at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo. Torriset has executed large-scale site-specific works for Oslo University Library and other key institutions in Norway. His works are included in collections such as the British Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and The National Gallery of Norway, The Astrup Fearnley Museum, The Norwegian Arts Council, Haugar Vestfold Art Museum and Oslo Municipal Collection.