Inspiration from the present and the past. The abstract and the figurative. Taut architectural lines and old baroque forms. Clear contradictions, yet an essence in Mona K. Lalim’s art. Learn more about a Norwegian artist’s fusion of old and new times.
Mona K. Lalim (69) has inherited a creative gene. Her father was an architect, and his cousin was the city conservator in Oslo with an office in the city museum at Frogner Park. She grew up nearby. Her great-grandfather, Hermann Julius Haagensen, was one of Norway’s first photographers, a violinist, and a composer. One of Lalim’s two sons has carried on the creative ability as a practicing architect.
When Lalim was 19 years old, she traveled to Italy and Venice for the first time. This became a transformative experience for the young woman. She grew up in a cultural family in Oslo, where visual art, music, and literature were significant parts of her life. But it was in Italy, when experiencing the art and culture, that she felt “whole as a human” for the first time.
“Rome opened up an entirely new awareness for me, and I felt a deep sense of belonging. The experience was a sensation of coming home.”
In her younger years, Lalim started studying art history at the University of Oslo. The plan was to work in a museum and become a conservator. However, when she became a mother at the age of 28, an inner voice became increasingly clear. She was meant to be a visual artist. When she finally dared to listen to her intuition and pursue fine art, she never looked back.
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Another article by our contributor on fine arts Anne Marit Muri: Artists’ Life in Norway – Award Winning Book. Click the image to read about the book she has written in collaboration with Bjørn Wad.
“I carved my own path early on, and art has been essential in my life. Encountering baroque impulses in Rome was a profound visual experience for me. Through studying the baroque era, I gained in-depth knowledge of Rome’s history and urban planning. The baroque style strongly influences present-day Rome. It was a period when the state and the Catholic Church, through the Counter-Reformation, left their mark on the urban landscape by constructing churches, palaces, and designing city plans that united various epochs from antiquity to the 1600s.
For many years, I worked on art projects in Italy and lived in Rome and Venice temporarily before realizing my dream of having my own home and studio in Sentro Storico, Terracina, south of Rome, in 2007. Sentro Storico has a forum older than Rome. The cityscape is characterized by the past and the present, inspiring and influencing my art.
I don’t believe that life is just a series of coincidences, but things happen along the way that opens up opportunities if one listens to their inner voice.”
Her presence in Italy has guided her towards a greater artistic fulfillment. Her art series bear the mark of an abstract expression with references to architecture, where classical oil paintings, concrete photographs, and restored antique building elements form a whole.
“To convey emotions about the tangible, where the vulnerable and the ephemeral, as well as the beautiful, arise in her artistic expression, is one of the driving forces behind creating,” she says. But also a finely-tuned sense of harmony and musicality. She has an innate sense of aesthetics and admires the music of Bach, Mahler, Beethoven, Handel, and Vivaldi. These classical tones are often listened to in her studio while creating paintings.
The home Lalim lives in, is situated on a slope in Stabekk with a wide view of Oslo and the fjord. The studio has 5 meters of ceiling height and large glass windows facing the view. The studio is a homage to her father, who contributed to realizing the valuable workspace through inheritance.
The first significant commission executed in the studio was an eight-meter-high decoration for the main restaurant on the ship Freedom of the Seas, under the management of RCCL, Royal Caribbean Cruises. The client was ICArt International Corporate Art, with whom the artist has collaborated for 23 years.
Everything she creates and shapes bears a distinct signature, reflecting her profound soul. She develops her artistic expression over time, incorporating lengthy processes of experimenting with various techniques. Lalim’s art is known for a series of paintings with clear themes. The series of Mangolia, Kala, and Armaryllis were created between 1994 and 1997. She painted the Rose series in 1992-1994. The Pearl series, renamed “Recollection” when exhibited, came to light between 1997 and 2000.
The different series of paintings mirror her life. The Rose series consisted of large paintings where the reference to the creative force in nature and the woman’s life cycle was visualized. For Lalim, the flower images symbolized female power. In art history, still life paintings of flowers are filled with symbols and references, where rosebuds, blooming, and withering rose petals have long represented metaphors for the passage of life.
In the “Recollection” exhibition of 2000, the paintings were built upon baroque pearl constructions. Technically, the pearl series resembles the painting techniques of the 1700s, but they also display a contemporary expression in their visual language.
“Painting pearl pictures became a way for me to work with geometry. The representation of pearls has a long tradition in art history and is also a symbol of eternal life. Vermeer masterfully painted pearls, still life, and everyday scenes in the 1600s, which still touch us in 2023.”
The Recollection series was also shown at the Drammen Museum, where art historian and curator Øystein Loge wrote:
“But Lalim does not paint jewels as objects. In her fairytale world, they are like constellations. Pearls and sparkling jewels emerge on the surface, and disappear and fade away into the depths, like stars in the cosmic darkness of the night.”
Since 2004, Lalim has been working on art projects related to architecture.
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Another article by our contributor on fine arts Anne Marit Muri: The World’s Northernmost Art Museum. To read her article, just click the image.
“I was fortunate enough to experience Mona K. Lalim’s exhibition “Complementi” – displayed at Galleri Semmingsen in Oslo in 2018.”
The exhibition consisted of a well-composed series of paintings in muted hues, mainly in earth tones, in small formats. With multiple layers of paint, the images appeared as if scraped from an ancient wall. Alongside the paintings were building fragments set in glass display cases, in baroque style, which somehow presented themselves as precious museum treasures in the exhibition.
The theme of “experiencing space” has been central in Lalim’s artistic exploration since as early as the 2000s. In 2016, the exhibition “Passato e presente” was shown in an Italian archaeological museum, Museo Palazzo Della Bonifica, where her work was in dialogue with antiquity.
Mona K. Lalim will open a new solo exhibition on October 12, 2023, at Galleri Semmingsen, titled “Interni.” She has had regular exhibitions at the gallery since 2014.
In the art project “Interni,” Mona K. Lalim creates dialogues between photographs of architectural details and oil paintings depicting historical buildings’ details and structures.
Her artistic practice focuses on a reverse archaeological reconstruction of space, where the artworks convey a sense of interaction between past and present. Lalim’s method involves exploring classical oil painting by developing painting techniques that reflect color codes and structures in historical rooms, while the photographs are precise observations of interiors. This way of composing paintings and photographs gives her work a sense of timelessness.
Facts about the artist:
Lalim’s artwork is included in public and private collections in Norway and abroad. She has also held several leading positions within the cultural field and has received numerous grants. In recent years, from 2019 until this year, she has delivered five commission projects for Viking’s newest cruise ships, including Viking Saturn, Neptune, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Complete decorative concepts with series of paintings, photographs, and building fragments, giving guests a sense of being transported to Italy. ICArt International Corporate Art, representing Viking, including Torstein Hagen, are art consultants.
Facts about the artist’s expression:
“The visual expression of Mona K. Lalim oscillates between figuration and abstraction. Thematically, her art projects have related to space and architecture since the early 2000s. Her works reflect an exploration of the visual possibilities of space and possess a meditative quality with a strong presence of the experience of time. Reconstruction of space has been a recurrent theme in her work. The visual language is classical but occasionally evokes associations with the tendencies of modern painting to build on geometric abstract forms and minimalism. Mona K. Lalim’s images bear the mark of a painting process, where the gaze turns inward, bringing forth memories from historical rooms, which materialize in the image’s surface.”
“Interni,” Galleri Semmingsen
“Complementi,” Galleri Seemingness
“Passato e presente,” Museo Palazzo Della Bonifica, Italy
“Reconstruction site,” Galleri Semmingsen
“Connections,” Galleri Semmingsen
“Reconstructions,” Trøndelag Senter For Samtidskunst
“Particolare,” Galleri LNM
“Recollection,” Drammen Museum for kunst og kulturhistorie
“Recollection,” Galleri LNM
“Rose,” Galleri LNM
A Norwegian Artist’s Fusion of Old and New Times – written by Anne Marit Muri. Muri is a former editor of, among others, Magasinet Kunst, and has written reports on art and culture for a number of years.
She is the author and initiator of the book, Kunstnerliv, portraits of 19 contemporary artists, which was published in 2018, voted the year’s most beautiful art book in 2019 by Grafill. She is also the author of the book, Det gåtefulle lyset, Svalbard, which was published in autumn 2022, by the publisher Utenfor Allfarvei in Harstad.
Muri is educated at the University of Oslo and Bergen. She is currently working on a master’s degree in media development, under the auspices of Oslo Met, in addition to developing new book projects and is a writer for several magazines. She is a regular writer on fine arts for Daily Scandinavian.
All photographs © Anne Marit Muri, except the three paintings.