Born in Sweden in 1969, Brita Granström studied art at Orebro Art School from 1988-89 and then from 1989-92 at Stockholm’s University College of Art & Design. Since moving to England in 1993, she now lives most of the year on the Northumberland coast. Her 2011 self-portrait, Mother of Four, ‘was painted in Sweden where I live by a lake during the summer months with my partner and our four sons. This painting references perceptions of domesticity and motherhood but is also an observational record with a strong sense of place. I’ve always loved the magical way the aspen and birch trees at the edge of our forest filter the light. They project their trunks and boughs onto the linen sheets with a dappled backlight that flickers like a magic lantern show, transforming the laundry into a cinema screen.’
Here the artist, in an elegantly plain three-tiered dress of opaque green, blue and red, stands taut and upright as her arms strain upwards to hang a white linen sheet out to dry; her look, turned towards the viewer, is fiercely engaging. Intentness of posture and mien suggest dynamic domestic purpose. The billowing white sheet, with its ‘magic lantern show’ of meandering watery blue tree shapes, carries manifold associations with themes of nurturing, rest, innocence, procreation and the promise of fecund new beginnings in the image of ‘a clean sheet’. The fluid arboreal shapes projected onto the pristine sheet itself may be seen as a subtle poetic allusion to the branching out of the family tree – celebrating the lives of her four sons.
Seeing Granström’s exhibition at Kings Place in 2011, I wrote, ‘I was enchanted by the exhilarating sweep of Granström’s landscape and seascapes, the adventurous freshness of the actual painting, and the unsentimental portrayal of very young children in wild natural surroundings.’ Her 2011 painting portrays herself within nature with spontaneously animated brushwork, using a muted yet still bright expressionist palette attuned to northern European climes, As an acute observer of moments of endearing quotidian intimacy, her pictures of family and home have an affinity with exquisite domestic interiors painted by the Swede Carl Larsson (1815-1993) – though Granström’s evidence a more freshly improvisatory note.
Granström’s 2013 self-portrait, Great-Grandmother’s Apron, exists, she says, ‘on one level, as a playful study of the negative surfaces left by a dough cutter on a Formica surface – but the heart of the painting is a one hundred year-old apron passed down from my great granny – an unbroken bond between four generations of women who have worked hard, baking, cooking and cleaning. Am I painting myself, or my great grandmother?’
A 2014 exhibition, ‘The Night Swimmer’, included an informal portrait of the artist’s mother wearing a lusciously pink slip, her figure, then her features reflected unobtrusively in the bedroom mirrors. Another painting portrays a distant back view of her mother standing in a lake at night communing with a magically illumined Wondrous Cloud. ‘I have painted my mother over many years. She was the star of my solo show ‘Undressed’, an exhibition challenging superficial perceptions of age and beauty. One day it struck me that my mother (although a fantastic model) in her own right is a filter; I’ve been painting my future self as I slowly metamorphose into her… a new species of self-portrait?’
Two self-portraits, Rescuing the Washing and Wild Washing – with dark minatory skies and turbulent waters – echo the subject matter of her painting Mother of Four – but ‘these are self-portraits from the subconscious, both inspired by recurring dreams of being haunted by untamed flapping sheets on a stormy midsummer night. They are, without doubt, Freudian.’
Granström’s partner Mick Manning, the author and illustrator with whom she has collaborated on many award-winning illustrated children’s books, has written that ‘Brita’s heroes include Winifred Nicholson and Edward Ardizzone’. Echoes of each of these artists can be discerned in her paintings which portray people in wild nature with such spacious luminosity as well as delicacy and acuity of detail. Between 2000 and 2014, Grantsröm had six solo exhibitions at The Northumbria University Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Purchased from the 2011 Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait competition.