Killing Curves: Lynn Ahren
Scottish artist Lynn Ahrens’ figure painting carries murderous intent. Paul Dale chats to him about his work
Glasgow-born, Edinburgh-trained, and under- appreciated painter Lynn Ahrens likes to talk about the human figure. ‘My work has kind of shifted from abstraction to complete abstraction to very synchronised figures to now more mythological figures.’ The 50-something Ahrens (one of the few men to still bear the original Celtic usage of the masculine name Lynn) talks in a broad, slow, meandering Shettleston brogue. The flow of ideas and freehanded lines are clearly important to him. When I suggest I detect the sweet smell of Francis Bacon in his work along with something more illustrative he is quick to push aside the limitations that such comparisons would bring. ‘I’m reluctant to acknowledge that word, I see my work as more psychologically unrealistic.’
His new exhibition, I’m Coming, Bluebeard, takes its name from Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle. Ahrens saw the Robert Lepage production of it over ten years ago and its macabre perversions (it’s based on Charles Perrault’s French fairy tale about a serial killer duke) have clearly been a big influence on the artist. ‘The places and the situations the figures are in, in this exhibition, hopefully create an emotional scene which reflects the hidden recesses of Bluebeard’s Castle.’
Ahrens also sees the show as a reflection of his obsessions with the human form and philosophy:
‘The paintings explore the human figure, sometimes moving, sometimes gestural, but always in response to events or intending to act and sometimes with another figure. The situations the figures are in determines to some extent the form they take and inform the scenes they enact. On the surface these situations can be simple, for example, a waiting figure, a sharing couple, or possibly a running figure.’ This collection of work, which he has been working on for a long time, certainly reflects Ahrens recurrent love of the work of Bacon, Picasso and Georg Baselitz but he also views it as more ‘dreamlike’, ‘irrational’ and ‘emotional’ than anything he has done before. It is also a summation of his immersion in the pure reason and analytic philosophies of Immanuel Kant and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Dismissive of the move away from fine art and towards minimalism and conceptualism in arts council funding in Scotland over the last two decades, Ahrens is however delighted that a painter took the Turner Prize last year. ‘Richard Wright’s is a very specific type of painting, it’s very temporary. I do like his work though.’ Ahrens voice tails off into wheezy uncertainty before recovering: ‘Currently I feel my work verges on and has the energy of a kind of Spanish flavour, maybe because I visited the Prado a few years ago. My sensibility has always been central European. I’ve worked with Georgian art collectives and I have a soft spot for the work of John Bellany but I’m no expressionist so I’m certainly not a nationalist.’
Lynn Ahrens: I’m Coming, Bluebeard, Art’s Complex, Edinburgh, Sat 20 Mar–Fri 2 Apr.