In the early summer of 1985 one of New York's avenues was cut off. The crane blocking the street prized a wooden crate into the Heller Gallery. Bertil Vallien could not have wished for better publicity on the presentation of his new boat sculpture.

Bertil maintains that he was slow to mature as an artist due to his double role of designer and sculptor. By the end of the 70s he decided to focus more on the artistic side. He had come to the point where he was forced to come to grips with his approach to life, to move forward and start something new. The breaking point coincided with a number of significant personal experiences. The artist was at a crossroads. The new departure gave rise to a series of ceramic boats in 1979 that would point him in the right direction.

The choice of boat as a sculptural theme was an apt embodiment of Vallien's many-sided artistry. The boat is a vehicle that carries a cargo, either material or immaterial. Gunnar Lindqvist describes the importance of the boat for Bertil Vallien:
"...He must constantly be on the move both mentally and imaginatively as well as in his work and geographically. The 80s for Bertil Vallien were a decade of free flight."

Bertil began the decade by refining the form he had begun in the 70s. During 1982-83 he worked with small sand-moulded cubes with rough surfaces - houses of glass with a stairway. One side of the cube is semi-transparent enabling one to see inside. In the centre of the sculpture is a tiny object. Though small, these cubes have an alluring power. When Bertil exhibited them at the Old Town Gallery the critics were disoriented but impressed.

"Glass eats light", is an expression coined by BV in the early 80s, and which became his motto. Normally glass reflects the light, but Bertil meant that light is trapped in the sculpture as an inner glow. GL describes it as "the anguished Northern light",where the angst is channelled into a hopeful quest.

Alongside the cubes two of Bertil's most powerful portrayals came into being. Sven Delblanc, 1982 (Swedish author) and Jerzy Kosinski, 1983 (Polish author). The two-part sculptures are 40 cm high. In the former, the base is composed of a stairway resembling the author's goatee beard; the facial expression is meditative and two clear glass rods form the eyes, which are lowered. The face of Kosinski stares threateningly ahead. (This portrait was the outcome of a personal experience, when for some unknown reason, Bertil was pursued by Kosinski for a time.)

- In the 70s I read some books by Kosinski, tells Bertil. They are fantastic and terrifying thrillers where people get killed by advanced bullying. Then I made a sand-casted portrait of Jerzy Kosinski. The portrait was sold at an exhibition in New York in 1983. One day the owner of Heller Gallery, Mr. Douglas Heller, called me and said that Kosinski´s lawyer had bought the sculpture. "That is brilliant!" I said. Kosinski was around that time involved in a quite nasty story. He was accused for murder of his wife, a loaded american woman. It strenghten my picture of him; a wasted man. Anyway, after awhile I got a pile books sent to my home. Without any sort of greetings. Then, I recieved strange telephonecalls. I thought I was choosen as one of his victims.It was a strange feeling to be contacted by such fantastic author. He never told me what he really wanted but he wondered why his eyes on my portrait was so ugly. One day Kosinski was at NK in Stockholm for signing books. I payed a visit there with Lasse Åberg ( artist and filmmaker). Finally I step forward and told him who I was. After awhile he said: "I do not know you." and Kosinski left the room.

The years 82-83 represent a tremendous liberation of Vallien's artistic powers. He began with the first mouldings of the boat form that would soon bring him world fame - he had already done some ceramic boat sculptures in the 60s. The first sand-casted glasswhich came out in 1977, had a smooth finish. In 1983 the first boats were exhibited at the Heller Gallery in New York and in Melbourne, Australia, and were immediately noted by the international body of critics. In the reputable Corning Museum's New Glass Review, 6, 1984, Dr Helmuth Ricke of the Dusseldorf Museum of Art wrote the following:

" Boats are symbols with a definite meaning. They stand for the journey from yesterday to tomorrow; they are laden with the relics of the past which might have no meaning for the future. In ancient oriental cultures, boats are often vehicles for the 'last journey'. The Swede, Bertil Vallien, challenges our comprehension. He also stirs thoughts of the past - weren't the Scandinavian Viking princes buried in ships laden with objects for the after-life? Doesn't the spade-cut texture of the outer skin of Vallien's boat remind one of an archaeological find which has just been excavated - a coarse and insignificant-looking container for the valuable objects housed in its interior? Perhaps the historian and archaeologist in me lead my ideas astray. Others have different opinions. They react more to the lightness, the playful element which exhibits a completely different facet of the work. Yet it is also a game with old and meaningful symbols: rings, chains, sceptre-like rods, a stairway, a wheel - ambivalent objects that appear to be interchangeable on a whim. In this manner, Bertil Vallien's work combines a number of relationships. One level of meaning overshadows another; in the end it is unfathomable and thus free of speculation or of penetrating pseudo-implication, which is still a characteristic of some of the more pretentious works in glass. I am interested in the tracks that human beings leave behind when they cease to exist. Bertil Valliens boat seems to be connected to this theme."


I will try to dissect Ricke's interesting, though rather abstract analysis of Bertil's boats. Central to this analysis is (the phrase) "one level of meaning overshadows another".
What symbols does Vallien use in his boats? Do the boats always carry a death theme? What is he expressing with his boats?

The last question is both the easiest and the most difficult to answer. He has said: "I chose the boat because it is such a beautiful shape - it contains both mystery and symbolism. The boat signifies a voyage, the Voyage of Life. People see these vessels as a protection from the unknown and the dark"
It is harder to explain the symbols he fills them with. Is he a conscious mystic with a clear plan for what the boats should contain, ready for us onlookers to accept? Bertil again:

"I choose the words but do not consciously choose their arrangement; the sentences which materialise have certainly no counterpart in my mind, they occur quite by chance"

Although he is assuredly a conscious artist who can intellectually explain his art, his guiding stars are imagination (fantasy) and spontaneity. The subconscious plays a central role in the boat sculptures. The symbolic meaning to be found there is subjective, varying from person to person, and it is always ambivalent. It is easiest to see the boats as carriers of something from the past, dead material. Boats can also be seen as a journey into the subconscious, a world inhabited by life and death in symbiosis. Whether it is his subconscious or our own, no one can say. Bertil Vallien wishes to awaken our imagination and our subconscious. A symbol often found in his boats is the rod. It implies permanency, a link with time and the basis of consciousness. The rod is the boat's heart, a memory bank

The Australian art veteran, Jenny Zimmer is of the opinion that the symbols Bertil has introduced belong to the universal, or 'collective unconscious'. According to the psychiatrist Carl Jung, archetypes replace the intuitive subconscious. The archetype is an anarchist that both aids and confuses people's interpretation of the subconscious. They are unhindered by cultural, social or religious barriers and speak a common language. For Bertil chance plays a large part at the inception of a creation. It is not enough to load the work with symbols; a metaphysical element must be captured in the moment. A work of art should encapsulate an inner light, a soul. Jenny Zimmer refers to Vallien's art as Psychological Expressionism.

"BV's sand-casted glass, with its mysterious shrouded depths and luminous opacity, focuses on the inner form of the translucent solid. The sand-casts are like ancient moonstones or weathered crystal-quartz whose surface tells a story, but within which secrets are hidden only to glow seductively where some cunning detail interrupts the outer skin.
It may seem presumptuous to make this broad analogy but, to me, these glass sculptures embody the spiritual-artistic ethos of Scandinavia as it suggests itself to a non-European through its visual arts and literature. In these extraordinarily sensitive glass statements - the products of chance as much as design - Vallien demonstrates once again, the Scandinavian preoccupation with the Jungian psychic-world of archetypes, of hazardous journeys of self-individuation and of the dualities of the natural and spiritual universes. The claustrophobia generated by the playwright Ibsen, the neuroses explored by the painter Munch and the vagaries and truths of human nature so much the province of the film-maker Ingmar Bergman, are also the terrain of Bertil Vallien."

1985 was the year of Vallien's international breakthrough. Winning a second place in the Zweiter Coburg Prize for modern glass sculpture in Europe, established his reputation as a major glass artist. The Zweiter Coburg prize, considered to be the most prestigious in the world, is awarded every 7th year. 217 glass artists from 20 European countries participated.

Bertil's strength and concentration went mainly into boats. But he still continued to develop the sandblasted glass. Here too, he brought in the archetypes, which were translated onto the multicoloured glass (substances). Among the best of his sandblasted artwork are the large platters known as Crossboat (1984) and Stairway (1987) respectively. They possess a seductive cascade of colour and charming imagery.

In 1988 two new sculptural themes were introduced: the monolith and torso. A monolith is something that rises vertically skywards, on which someone has chosen, in pregnant language, or symbols, to relate their life history. The commonest monolith is the gravestone, which in the past was very important as life's last visiting-card. The step towards the monolith was not far for Bertil - he halved a boat and placed it on a stone base. But there ends the likeness to a boat. The boat is a complex object, the monolith simply the bearer of historical messages, a static exclamation mark, as it were! With the torsoes it was very different:

"They are a cross between the primitive and the sublime; their beat midway between cult and art theory. They have human proportions similar to the abstraction of cardboard figures at a rifle range, and could never be mistaken by anyone in his right mind for flesh and blood."

With these new sculptural themes Vallien entered an increasingly destructive formal world. He distanced himself from the aesthetic and the beautiful. In 1989 and through the 90s, the world experienced dramatic change;the future appeared unstable and frightening. The Phoenix rose on high, but in its shadow loomed a world that no one was willing to acknowledge Bertil saw the destruction and was ready to portray the historical scenes of annihilation.


 

House, sand - casted sculpture, 1981-1983. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 

 

 

House, 1981-1983. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 



 

Portrait of Jerzy Kosinski, 1983. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 

 





Portrait of swedish author Sven Delblanc, 1983. Photo: Anders Qvarnström.

 

 

 


 



Crossboat, 1985.

 

 

 

 

Destination X, 1985. Belongs toVictoria and Albert Museum, London. Photo: Anders Qvarnström.

 

 

 

 

 


The secret of the Barn. Photo: Anders Qvarnström.



 

 

 

Voyage of Dreams, 1986.

 

 

 

Crossboat, sand - blasted platte, 1984. Photo: Lars G Ohlsson.

 

 

 

 

 



The Ladder, sand - blasted platter, 1987. Photo: Ola Terje.




 

 

Cavo, sand - casted, 1988. Photo: Anders Qvarnström.

 

 

 

 

Nero,1988. Photo: Anders Qvarnström.

 

 

 

 


Pendulums, 1989. Photo: Anders Qvarmström.


 

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