Seir's new paintings draw from the obsolete aesthetics of Nordic public art made during the post-war period. In looking back at something that looked forward, Seir's vocabulary reflects the outmoded optimism of the welfare state. In contrast to previous work, these paintings focus on touch in relation to the otherwise strict language of Modernist hardedge. Perhaps a flirtation with the smudgy lines of Mondrian, or the uneven surfaces of Malevich. Pronounced with a contemporary attitude, together with a sense of nostalgia, these pieces echo a mindset of the past for a potential future.
"Letting things happen. The act of doing something, then negating, then doing it again, is newness itself."
- Richard Bateman and Nick Dawes
What current elements do you feel connected to at the time, and how do they influence your work?
I guess there is a 'looking back' -type of quality in my work, especially in my choice of palette but also in the way in which the surfaces have been worked on. In contrast to this, I'm using a familiar style, associated with Modernism. The connotations of these aesthetics, at the time perceived as current, were rather the opposite, - they were forward looking and intended to be beyond historical referencing. I travel a lot and find inspiration in urban environments and design aesthetics. This Summer I spent time in Osaka, Japan which was aesthetically pretty different from what I had imagined. While spending some time in Milan during my solo show at NAM Project, I photographed about a hundred gates to residential buildings I find typical of Milan. Perhaps some of them will end up as paintings.
Drawing from previous artistic practises, what makes you employ a Modernist visual language?
It hasn't actually been a conscious strategy at all. Some people get a little sceptical looking at my work as they are not sure what my intentions are. I guess my position could easily be understood as critical towards Modernism but if that would be my agenda I would probably engage in writing instead, as it would be more of a direct way of getting a message across. Of course there is a sense of nostalgia in my work but it doesn't deny its current time, nor the beauty of expired Modernity.
Do you think it's possible to read your work as a potential critique of the modern, aesthetically saturated society we find ourselves in today?
That's not really for me to tell but I don't think it's my job to try to get a wide audience as possible to think the same thing. That would be kind of tragic in my opinion. I can also honestly say that I really enjoy just applying paint to a surface and building up a pattern based on simple principles. In fact I think my practice, at least to me, is as much about such a simple pleasure as it is about the whole Modernist discussion.
Robin Seir was born in Gothenburg (Sweden) in 1986. He has since 2008 been based in London and has exhibited widely in the UK but also in Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, Croatia and Berlin. In 2010 Seir was shortlisted for the Marmite Prize for Painting. He is completing his Master’s degree at the Royal Academy Schools.
Interview by Alice Manieri