Leif Elggren was born in Linköping, anno domini 1950. As a young man he wanted, by all his heart, to study at an aesthetic gymnasium in order to improve his drawing skills. But his parents would not allow it, so he began studying the technical program. It was four years containing all that is adolescence ascribed but, come Friday, there was suddenly time for drawing. Since 1977, Elggren has conducted a close study of the relationship between two extremes in terms of colour: black and yellow. Before then, it was the white that responded to the black when they met on paper in the drawings. But these expressions did not contain any real colour, and this he wanted to get away from, taking another decision and a launch in a new direction. According to Elggren, white was eventually changed to yellow, which is the brightest colour. The human being perceives the sun’s light as yellow, despite the fact that it would be seen as white from space, because the particles of the atmosphere pollute the sun’s actual light scale.
We know black as the darkest of colours; a colour that has historically symbolized death and the night in contrast to the life-giving daylight as well as the rays of the sun. The truth, however, is that few people have seen the colour black for real. In nature, black is usually a mixture of colours with blue as a base. By time, black objects fade by sunlight or is washed and gets a grey-blue or brown tone. Nevertheless, NASA has recently developed a material for space research that absorbs 99% of all light and therefore is perceived as completely black.
Twice articulated, the black and the yellow arose as Elggren began working with them. Poisonous plants and insects often carry these colours to signal danger to predators and as to say: swallowing me is not worth it. The evolutionary phenomenon is called aposematism. The colour scheme of the wasp causes most people to flinch rather than waving them off like it was a simple fly, as would be the natural thing to do. Thus, harmless species also have developed what is termed mimicry. The hoverfly mimics the wasp’s yellow-black pattern in order to obtain the equivalent deterrent effect, hence escaping predators.
Elggren wanted to embrace the black and yellow. This desire grew and during strolls he began seeing the patterns: perfectly triangular warning signs for icicles, live rails or ongoing construction work were marked with tape displaying this colour combination. How come mankind, just like wasps or exotic plants, urged caution by using these colours? Who had decided it? Is it universally human? The dialogue between the said desire and the reality suddenly came together. He began to photograph the patterns and thought to himself, that it must be he himself who had produced them. Should he sign the tape and the warning signs? No, to grab the public space does not suit Elggren. No signature is needed for the universally human. It can belong to someone as well as to all of us. To play with the roles via their own perception, alongside that, that is not patented or acquired.
The study of the black and the yellow together with the boundary between them continued. The dark versus the bright. Like an aging medieval monk at the pulpit, it proceeded. But over time, the boundary began to blur, the eyes could no longer maintain living up to the sharp line in the painting. The macula lutea, the”yellow spot”, that does not make up more than 2,5 millimetres of the retina, renders most of the colours we discern. No exact causes to problems with the macula lutea and its function have been established. However, Elggren has got it. His study of the sharp contrasts between black and yellow has suddenly resulted in something else. The reality that previously surprised with the familiar evolutionary, universally human patterns, was studied to the gentle degree that reality spoke up. A phenomenon called drusen occurs. Everyone gets it in the end, but those who are hit extra hard by it get a considerable accumulation of these dots that affect the eye’s perception of reality. To stare at Elggren’s paintings consisting of the impeccable lines between the colours strikes the eyes noticeably, after just five minutes. What would not, at least 40 years, do?
Accordingly, the next study deals with how the boundary has been dissolved and the possibilities that originate when the colours are mixed. Elggren does not paint with NASA’s deep- black colour so consequently the black tint based on most of the dark colours, is mixed up in exciting ways with the yellow. For a while he painted wearing polarized sunglasses to bridge the distance betwixt the colours and thereby outwit the drus. The study has continued since 1977 with a master’s patience and has only in recent years changed fundamentally. But it’s not over yet.
Valter Sydén, March 2019
Leif Elggren (born 1950, Linköping, Sweden), is a Swedish artist who lives and works in Stockholm. Active since the late 1970s, Leif Elggren has become one of the most constantly surprising conceptual artists to work in the combined worlds of audio and visual. Together with artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff, he is a founder of the Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV) where he enjoys the title of King. Elggren spent five years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, specializing in drawing, design and bookprinting. In the late ‘70s he began to associate with performance groups, meeting people like Hausswolff and Thomas Liljenberg. With the latter he formed Firework in 1978, a duo that put up exhibitions and performances. Around the same time he purchased a press and started to publish art books. In 1988 he formed the duo Guds Söner (The Sons of God) with Kent Tankred, whom he had met four years earlier. The duo excels in creating long, puzzling stage performances that give equal roles to physical action (or inaction) and soundtrack (live or taped) with themes such as violence, love, the quotidian, food and royalty. Together with Hausswolff, Elggren represented Sweden in the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001 (with Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen from Finland and Anders Tomren from Norway).