[person_by] August Strindberg

January 2020

It is little known outside Sweden that in the final years of the nineteenth century the famous playwright August Strindberg (1849–1912) engaged in painting, photography, and (pseudo)science. Driven by his wish to express the all-encompassing cohesion of the universe, Strindberg experimented with alternative methods and technologies. Against the tide of the dominant realism of his time, Strindberg initially painted a radical view of the Swedish landscape as metaphor for his turbulent emotions. His paintings, showing rogue waves, heavy rock masses, and subdued cloud formations, can be seen as the ‘automatic writing’ of his inner life. Strindberg believed that coincidence plays a decisive role in creation, so he invited chance to determine every level of his artistic process. In his 1894 essay ‘Chance in Artistic Creation’, Strindberg describes his methods: “The arts of the future (which will pass away, like everything else!) imitate nature closely; above all, imitate nature’s way of creating!”* Strindberg’s method was to start more or less randomly, thereby trusting nature’s inherent desire for form, so that eventually a picture would almost automatically grow out of the paint. One of the most intriguing examples of this ‘method’ is his series of ‘celestographs’, photographs captured without a lens or camera. Instead, he exposed sensitized photographic plates directly to the night sky. This automated process excludes the viewer (as subject), the lens (as medium), and a concrete motif (as object), but opens new registers of abstract, speculative looking and thinking.

August Strindberg
Johan August Strindberg (1849 – 1912, Sweden) was a Swedish play wright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter. A prolific writer who often drew directly on his personal experience, Strindberg's career spanned four decades, during which time he wrote over sixty plays and more than thirtyworks of fiction, autobiography, history, cultural analysis, and politics.