• Artist: Johs Rian
  • Creation date: 1968
  • Object type: Painting

On display: Room 075 The Collection Exhibition - After the great disaster


“The colours are what is most important,” Johs Rian once said. In 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he made his debut at an exhibition at Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo, after having completed his training at the Academy of Fine Art under the tutelage of Axel Revold (1928–29). Already in Rian's early, figurative works, one gets a clear sense of an interest in pure colors and simplification of forms, which can be said to point to his later abstract paintings. Occupation represents the style he had developed and cultivated during the final phase of his career.

The painting features monochromatic fields of mauve and blue-green against a black background. The paint has been applied to the surface without any distinct brushstrokes showing. Even though the placement of the various elements might seem haphazard, we know that Rian spent a great deal of time on the composition. He believed there was an ideal location for every shape, and an ideal colour as well, and his ultimate ambition was to discover this perfect painting.

The title refers to the Soviet-led troops from the Warsaw Pact countries' invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. According to Rian, “the blue serpent here is the Soviet Union, which wants to crush the tiny splash of violet – Czechoslovakia”. The large rectangle symbolizes the resistance movement, while the speck of green in the upper-left corner represents help from the international community. With this information in mind, it becomes easier to imagine how this picture symbolizes the occupation of a small country.

Even though Rian uses his nonfigurative works to comment on contemporary political events, his art is typified above all by its composition and its characteristic use of colour.

Text: Hilde Areng Skaara

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


Johs Rian

Visual artist, Painter

Born 1891 in Overhalla, Nord-Trøndelag, death 1981 in Oslo

Work info

Creation date:
Other titles:
Okkupasjon (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
  • Height: 100.7 cm
  • Width: 110.7 cm
  • Depth: 2.2 cm
Acquired 1969
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Børre Høstland
© Rian, Johs/BONO