Ella Tillema was born in 1983 in Stockholm, and now lives and works in Malmö. She graduated with a Masters degree in Art from Malmö Konsthögskola in 2010 and has since diligently exhibited around Sweden, in places such as Dunkers Kulturhus, Borås Konstmuseum and Ljungbergmuseet. The artist works with figurative oil painting, though she has also experimented with music and screen-printing. In addition to exhibiting Ella’s new paintings, this vernissage will also double as a release party for her yearly pamphlet – FRAMTIDEN (The Future), her fifth in a row. Below, Thomas Millroth writes about her newest paintings.
“Black is a colour that both conceals and reveals,” I think as I stand before Ella Tillema’s new paintings. It can lead the way to the poetry found within the image. Come to think of it, the same may be said about the colour white. While these could merely be seen as two poles in a rather banal “plus-minus” relationship, they also have the incredible potential to subtly emphasize the paintings’ light-to-dark ratio. Ella has three new paintings of the same young girl. In her first work, this girl sits on a light surface, red paint surrounding her haphazardly, as though it were the product of some spontaneous action. Using this vortex of red paint, the young girl writes about life and death. Red, as Ola Billgren once suggested, has a voice that speaks of aggression and love, darkness and warmth, blood and light. The young girl in the painting seems to have understood the exceptional power of this colour, which holds the ability convey what she is thinking. Talented artists do not use colour as a mere signal or piece of décor, and as we see through these works, Ella is no exception. In her works, colour becomes a living, ductile body. This attribute becomes even more important in the second painting of the young girl, who has now stood up and is contemplating the circling red lines and a different text, as the colour black grows from the corners of the canvas like dusk. Finally, in the last painting, the young girl stands naked and looks as though she is painting herself black. Painted in warm pink-red tones, her body shines, thereby counteracting the encroaching darkness. The darkness is becoming light; perhaps she is not painting herself black, after all. Perhaps she is painting herself out of the darkness. Ella Tillema retains mystery and dualism in the colour red, which lingers as a hint in the darknessness and in the girl’s skin colour — the aforementioned tension between blood and light.
In all of Ella Tillemas new paintings, the child sees and the adult conveys. The depictions of nature are thick, dark and impentrable, like a kind of like a song that is romantic and horrifying all at once. But even here, some reddish tones are able to sneak in, in the midst of the earthy colours. They fall like light over the rocks and make the tree trunks glow. This does more than tell a story about a certain time of day; the role of colour is to create a specific mood.
Ella Tillemas paintings are figurative; but take note that there is also a kind of abstraction within them, in terms of their relationship to the natural world. The linking thread between these paintings’ passion, emotional life, and poetry, is latency towards a troubling social, political, and societal decay. A well worked-through painting with many physical layers is needed in order to explore all the emotional layers they encapsulate. In these works, one may find a perceptible human fragility, which gives relief to the figures that seem wilted, both in nature and in our contemporary landscape.
The images have a certain aloofness, not to be confused with stillness. They absorb time; and do not simply speak well about the world, but instead question it.
Thomas Millroth, November 2013