Waning – Erik Thor Sandberg

I am coming away from folk stories this week to talk about an artist that I have only just stumbled across, and have really taken to his work. This particular painting might resonate with me somewhat more than the others simply because of a recurring nightmare that I had when I was younger. The dream was always the same – I would find a baby on the doorstep and I take it in and care for it. Very quickly the child grows larger than the house and turns into a Vampire which then goes on to eat everyone in the street, and I am left hiding under a table and the vampiric child breaks the roof off my house and tried to eat me – the one who cared for it… Goodness knows what this says about me, but it’s not something I have felt necessary to discover either.

Sandberg is based in Washington DC, and reminds me of the old Dutch masters to look at his work. He primarily works in oil on canvas, and they mostly feature weird and wonderful characters. His art teeters on a fine line of expressionism and surrealism as it illustrates the inherent flaws that we as human beings display.

His paintings seem to have been completed like a freeze of a moment in time, bringing his audience into a conversation which they didn’t realise that they were having, but completely immerses them into what might be going on.

Sandberg uses imagery and symbolism, but some are of his own making and others are more universal, leaving it up to the audience to find their own allegories within his work. It is very hard to look at these paintings and not start to form a story in your own head of what is going on.

The word “Waning” is an odd one isn’t it as it has a dual meaning. The first is with the waning of the moon as it gets more shadow fall across it, making look as though it is getting smaller; the second is that of becoming weaker, which Sandberg seems to capture both meanings in one easy swoop.

Essentially what we see in this painting is a mother feeding her child, which normally there is nothing really more natural, but within this painting the there is an uncomfortable feel and a saddening for the people within in it.

Let’s concentrate on the child first. Looking at the face and the stance the child looks no more than 2 or 3 years old, but it completely dwarfs the mother. Idly being fed, food falling from it’s lip and naked sat in front of a door, blocking any exit the mother might wish to take. The look on the child’s face is that of complete disinterest in the food that is being shovelled into his mouth. This doesn’t appear to be a loving relationship of any sort, both mother and child, honestly look sick to the back teeth with each other.

It is hard to ignore the similarities of the child and the renaissance images of Cupid or a Putto, a chubby naked child that usually adorn religious and mythical paintings. These usually depicted an absolute passion and moved to representing the omnipresence of God. Perhaps there is an underlying meaning here of how religion has changed into something driven by greed rather than a passionate belief, which undervalues the efforts of women.

The mother is slumped in a chair (note the green and yellow tones in it). She has a distant expression on her face, as though all of her energy has been taken by caring for this enormous child. Her head tilts at an uncomfortable angle as she holds a bowl of food that is proportional to the child, offering a spoon as she sinks into her chair.

The tights (and stockings in some cases) are a recurring trope in Sandberg’s work, and as a woman that wears tights quite often, I can say they are much like your own personal prison. A bad pair of tights can ruin your day, simply by either riding up your body all day or sagging in all the places you don’t expect something that is supposed to be skin tight too. In fact, if a personal prison was the allegory Sandberg was going for he could have just added a bra and that would have been the ideal way to have this poor woman in the most uncomfortable attire ever designed. The fact that the mother has been left topless is twofold. One to remind the audience that she is the milk barer, therefore she has a bond to this child even it is just to keep him alive in an animalistic sense. The other is to remind the viewer that she is a sexual being, although there is no sign of her partner in this, therefore she has served her use by producing a child (I know this is a very cynical view, but look at her face…).

There is a very fine link between nature and the human flaws in this painting. Her tights and the colours of the chair, tie her into the sparse plant life that can be seen behind her. If you look to the left hand side of the mother there is a small square stone with plants growing either side of it. One first view I took this to be a tiny grave, and I still feel like that after hours of looking at this picture to write this article. It feels like the cycle of life and death, the mother giving her all to the child to ensure that it grows to be the best that it can be, eclipsing her and eventually he falling away to nothing (if you have seen the film Vivarium this theme will be very familiar to you).

Look to the back of the picture and there is a rat feeding baby rats in a nest. The mother bringing food to them, reflecting what is happening in the foreground of the painting.

However you see this painting, Sandberg manages to bring an uncomfortable feeling to what should be a perfectly normal scene. His work uncovering the darker side of humanity without completely spelling it out for this audiences, allowing them to see their own meaning to the awkward scene which has been put in front of them.

I really love this artist, and if you would like to see more of this work, you can find it here.

What do you see when you look at “Waning”? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?

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