- Billedkunstner, Painter, Graphic artist
Lena Cronqvist (b. 1938) is a prominent figure in Scandinavian art. For sixty years she has created life stories through paintings, graphics, sculptures and textiles. She delves into the unpleasant aspects of childhood, motherhood, illness and loss.
Cronqvist's art is autobiographical. She draws material from her own personal experiences, but transforms these into universal narratives of what it means to be human. She confronts the viewer with various existential themes. Faced with her images, we can feel the unpleasantness, anxiety, pain and empathy.
The autobiographical has gained renewed relevance in recent years in "reality literature" with Karl Ove Knausgård's novel series My Struggle (2009–2011) as one of several striking examples. Cronqvist has had this focus since she made her debut in 1965. Using her own life as a starting point, she has created a personal and recognisable world of images. The series based on mental illness, problems related to motherhood and the loss of parents stand as emblematic images of life and death.
Frieze of life
As an 18-year-old, Cronqvist visited Oslo and the Munch Room in the National Gallery. This encounter with Edvard Munch's art made a deep impression and set her on a quest for an art that conveys the journey of life. With Munch in mind, Cronqvist's art can be seen in the context of a frieze of life in its depictions of the child, the young woman, the relationship between man and woman, the woman as mother, the role of the artist, illness and death. The theme of death in the works known as the "death series" bears a striking parallel to Munch's images.
In line with the idea of self-revelation, the self-portrait plays a central role in the art of both Munch and Cronqvist. The repeated examination of one's own face contains interpretations of the self, marked by the passage of time. Cronqvist's self-portraits provide insight into life experiences related to childhood, motherhood and the role of the artist. Representations of mother and child are one of the core themes in her art. The relationship is portrayed without closeness or warmth, strained and on the verge of terror. Who will break down first? In this motif she draws on art history's representations of Madonna and the Child. The reference to art history helps give the images from everyday life historical depth.
A way of protesting
In 1969, Cronqvist suffered postpartum psychosis and was admitted to St. Jörgen's Psychiatric Hospital. Her stay there led to a series of paintings that dealt with the traumatic experiences of involuntary admission, medication and isolation. Should we view these pictures as a form of protest? The autobiographical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth also become political here. The use of her own life, together with a strong social engagement, allows Cronqvist's art to be seen in the context of the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo: Kahlo also appears as a direct reference, for example in the self-portrait of Cronqvist in the role of the artist entitled Ibland tänker jag på Frida K (Sometimes I Think of Frida K.) from 1986. Both artists have turned their own experiences into universal and political life stories.
- Karin Sidén (ed.), Nina Weibull (ed.), Katarina Wadstein Macleod, Göran Sonnevi: Lena Cronqvist (Stockholm: Prins Eugen Waldemarsudde, 2020).
- Kari J. Brandtzæg (ed.), Vigdis Hjort og Linda Haverty Rugg: Hode ved hode: Cronqvist, Bjørlo, Munch: kunsten og livet (Head by Head: Cronqvist, Bjørlo, Munch: Art and Life) (Oslo: Munchmuseet Uten tittel, 2017).