Stoicism, a school of philosophy founded in Athens during the third century BCE, popularized ideas about death and dying that, to some modern thinkers, might venture too far into the macabre. For the Stoics, suicide could be a noble act, particularly when compared to living through immense physical pain or continuing a spiritually compromised existence. Such morbid theories are potentially at odds with modern beliefs about the sanctity of life. But for Martin Schreiner, a painter working through the unexpected death of his best friend, the Stoics provide a symbolic framework on which to hang a nearly incomprehensible tragedy.
At Rod Bianco Gallery in Oslo, Schreiner offers “After all this time,” the second show in a trilogy dedicated to the death of his friend, a childhood companion with whom he shared a closeness bordering on brotherhood. Schreiner’s installations and canvases are both stylistically cohesive and clearly informed by an attempt to give dignity to what, to outsiders, could look like a morally compromised death. In the process, he memorializes artists such as Virginia Woolf, who also died by her own hand, as well as the various still-living friends of Schreiner’s subject. The result is a physical documentation of the figures occupying Schreiner’s grieving process.
Throughout the gallery, portraits appear in ghostly, muted tones. Black-and-white figures, washed out and pale, float atop mixed-media backgrounds, many separated from the foreground by mesh wire. Dripping white paint and carrying massive hunks of wood, they gaze stonily at the objects of their attention: a butterfly, a broken branch, and, in the case of the unnerving Dyp dal I (Mari) (2016), the viewer.
In interviews with local press, Schreiner has been fairly tight-lipped about the planned trilogy except to confirm that it is a real-time expression of his grieving process. Even the show’s press release—a vague recollection of the Chernobyl disaster’s effect on local flora and fauna—is evidence of the artist exorcising his pain. In his art and in his life, grief, a famously erratic emotion with few universal symptoms, is transformed into a personal language, an occult symbology that speaks to us all.