• Artist: Per Kleiva
  • Creation date: 1971
  • Object type: Print

Not on display


The politicization of art in the 1960s and 1970s led to it being used as a battering ram in the political discourse. In a Norwegian context, Per Kleiva’s Pages from the Diary of Imperialism is one of the best known examples of art as political agitation. Triggered by the United States’ brutal warfare in Vietnam, and inspired by American pop art and the stencilled imagery used in advertising, Kleiva’s series of silk screens combines an idyllic slice of nature, in the guise of a hazily beautiful meadow, with the harsh aggression of military might. This aggression manifests itself in the first picture as marching military boots, in the second as airborne helicopters, and in the third as bombs falling over the defenceless landscape. The course of events culminates in complete destruction, with Kleiva using destabilizing contrasts between the beautiful and the horrific to depict the horror of war. The German artist Harun Farocki, a contemporary of Kleiva, noted that it was impossible to portray the real damage caused by napalm, as people would only close their eyes to such horrific wounds and then repress both the memory and the context of what they had seen.

Kleiva was a member of the GRAS collective, which was founded by a group of young, radically left-wing artists in 1969. Using easily accessible silk screens, these artists expressed their action-oriented pragmatism based on the principles of socialism. GRAS wanted to heighten public awareness, popularize art as a tool, and turn such art into an ideological instrument for collective action.

Text: Line Ulekleiv

From "Highlights. Art from 1945 to the Present", Nasjonalmuseet 2016, ISBN 978-82-8154-116-0


Per Kleiva

Visual artist

Born 01.04.1933, death 17.09.2017

Per Kleiva's art often stemmed from political, environmental or interpersonal issues which he processed through a range of visually striking expressions in different formats and materials.

At his debut exhibition in 1964, Kleiva commented that working on art while listening to improvised jazz infused his artworks with an urge to take centre stage and be a bit "rude," just like the tones. Both jazz and American pop art became important tools in Kleiva's art, and one of his early masterpieces, Softly as in a morning sunrise (1965), was named after a jazz tune. The piece consisted of a silver-painted mannequin hand emerging from a metallic black sun towards the viewer. Kleiva combined materials in new ways, using mass-produced discarded products, pine, and plexiglass in his mixed media collages and objects. It was his discovery of silk-screen printing that Per Kleiva eventually achieved his breakthrough. He found an artistic expression here where he could continue his unusual visual compositions at a price that most could afford. He called these works "shilling prints".

Iconic resistance
Initially, he was concerned with tightly delineated forms in bold colours. These were printed on both traditional paper types and unusual materials like acrylic plastic. Kleiva became best known for incorporating current events into his images using photos from newspapers. As a prominent member of the left-leaning artist group GRAS, he created the graphic masterpiece Amerikanske sommerfugler (American butterflies) in 1971. The print still stands as an iconic symbol of that period of Norwegian opposition to the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam war.

Advocate for Norway’s indigenous people
Kleiva's Norwegian breakthrough came in 1980 as the main exhibitor at the Bergen International Festival and through a major exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, where he exhibited a group of large sculptures in polished birch wrapped in barbed wire, which later became part of Norway's contribution to the international biennial in Sao Paulo in 1984. Samisk bustad (Sami dwelling) (1980) expressed support for the Norwegian indigenous people's struggle for self-determination during the Alta hydropower dam conflict. Along with Kleiva's Indiansk farkost (Indian canoe) (1983), this theme was highly relevant in a continent where similar conflicts prevailed at that time.

Per Kleiva never felt at home in only one particular genre. His art is characterised by a kind of contradictory universe that underlies the complex motifs he created. And it is in these fields of tension that love, hope, and despair can be found.

Work info

Creation date:
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Fargesilketrykk på papir
  • Width: 596 mm
  • Height: 596 mm
  • 14/40
Overført fra Riksgalleriet 1988
Inventory no.:
Part of exhibition:
Kunst 2, 2005 - 2007
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Therese Husby
© Kleiva, Per/BONO