Lars Ahlstrand 1997 - 2004


Danmark - India - Denmark


Lars Ahlstrand's artistic background

Lars Ahlstrand's paintings today may be described as abstract expressionism. It is characteried by a wide span between his present nonfigurative imagery, from the light, lyrial colour combinations of his gouaches to the often very dark, colouristically powerful and highly contrasting expression of his paintings. Common to all his works, however, is that they radiate a powerful and intensely sensitive musicality.

To understand what lies beneath Lars Ahlstrand's expressive universe, it may be helpful to take a look at his biographical background.

Lars Ahlstrand was born in 1958 in Copenhagen. He began drawing and painting at an early age, and made his debut at the age of 17 in 1975 at the Artists' Autumn Exhibition with an interior of an unmade bed. The picture, incidentally, was sold at the exhibition.

From the mid-1970s onwards, Lars ahlstrand's pictures show clear signs of having been inspired by the work of the Danish painter Edward Weie (1879-1943). The paintings from this period demonstrate a deft lightness and musicality, cf. an arrangement from 1978 in oil on canvas (measuring 55 x 45 cm).

He studied a variety of graphic techniques, including copperplate printing with the Danish painter and graphic artist Villy Daugaard Pedersen (1915 - 1994) in Naestved.

THE 1980S

From the beginning of the 1980s and onwards, Lars ahlstrand's work demonstrate a use of dark, heavy and often muddy colours, smouldering with nerve and intensity. These are highly sensuous images.


In 1989 Lars Ahlstrand travelled to india the first time. On that occasion, his visit lasted only five weeks, and his works from this period are often painted in grey, dusty and satiated earth shades.

His second visit to India took place in 1991, and from this time onwards his works gradually become lighter. Since 1991 Lars Ahlstrand has visited India almost every year, occasionally twice a year, and sometimes for up to six months at a time.


When Lars Ahlstrand speaks of India, it becomes clear that the country is like a magnet to him. He soon discovered that India was a place he would return to again and again. He was especially attracted to Shantiniketan, which was to become his base. Shantiniketan, which is located some 150 kilometres north of Calcutta (now Kolkata), means "the abode of peace".

Shantiniketan is located in Birbhum district which is known for it's extreme climate. The high summer temperatures have meant that few people were willing to live in the area, which was previously visited only by sadhus and yogis who came to the area to meditate.

Shantineketan's original inhabitans are known as Santals, a tribe with beautiful and spectacular customs. The images of their ritual symbols and patterns on their clay huts cannot fail to have inspired Lars Ahlstrand.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1919, moved to Shantiniketan at the end of the 1800s and founded a university which thrives to this day. The range of studies is wide, with the emphasis on art and music.

In 1993, Lars Ahlstrand purchased a piece of land on which he built a small house in a part of Shantiniketan known as Lalband. Lalband is located between two lakes: 'lal' means red, 'band' means lake. His house is permanently occupied by his good friend Butch and the latter's wife and two children.

Ahlstrand recounts that the earth in Shantiniketan is red, and that the paths therefore consist of the finest, soft orange red dust. In May, the temperature may exceed +40 - 50 Celcius. This intense atmosphere of heat combined with the smell and sensation of the soft orange red earth seems to be present in several of the paintings created by him in both India and Denmark.


Characteristically, Lars Ahlstrand almost never paints a single picture at a time. Often, he paints an entire series of up to 10 - 15 pictures. Mostly, this process intially results in only one finished painting. The remaining pictures are subsequently stored in smaller groups. When these groups are brought out again later, changes are made and new elements added in the shape of new layers of paint to create a relief effect.

As far as the works that are created in India are concerned, Ahlstrand employs the same procedure of working in series. The unfinished pictures that are painted in India are flown home to Denmark and completed here.


The power of the expression of Ahlstrand's paintings lies in the combination of the implied and restrained Nordic ligthness, as seen on the one hand in several of his canvases and gouaches from 2000, 2001 and up to the present day (page 154) and on the other in the vived, powerful colour-saturated expression witnessed in many of his oils or acrylic on canvas or masonite dating from the mid-1990s to the present day.


Ahlstrand visited India at the beginning of 2004 and painted a number of dark pictures which were exhibited at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture in Calcutta in February 2004 (pages 11 - 21). According to Ahlstrand, the paintings were all inspired by the life and colours of Calcutta and Shantiniketan.The dark Bengal night with its fireflies and the moon over the peaceful Shantiniketan are contrasted with the hurly-burly of Calcutta.

PAINTINGS FROM 2002 - 2003

In 2002 and at the beginning of 2003, Ahlstrand painted a number of larger works (246 x 310 cm) in Shantiniketan. The painting from 2003 (page 127) in particular seems to toy with ambiguity: along with the symbols of the Santals, represented perhaps by the white dots, and the exotic light and warmth, one senses something far more subtle, possible cruel.

The painting from 2003 (page 131) was painted during the same period, and seems to indicate a profound direct connection with the nature. It could be a scene from an early evening at the Santal clay huts.

PAINTINGS FROM 1998 - 2000

A couple of the paintings from 2000 from Shantiniketan hint at a horizon. The night and cloud formations from the lush Bengal landscape (page 151) and views from Calcutta (page 143) from the basis for these works.


The picture (page 147), which was painted during the monsoon season in 1992, conveys the strong heat mixed with a huge volume of rainwater.

Lise-Lotte Blom
MA, Art Historian