Max Book, a Swedish multimedia and performance artist as well as a member of the electronic band ZëBB Academy in the late 1970s, gained acclaim in the ’80s with the experimental art collective Wallda Group, which included Cecilia Edefalk, Stig Sjölund and Eva Löfdahl. Since then, Book has continued his process-oriented practice, most recently in a dazzling body of overpainted photographic landscapes, augmented by an amalgam of chemical and biological processes. Sometimes he leaves the works outside to weather in the snow, where twigs and leaves become embedded in their surfaces.
This show comprised 13 large-scale works (up to 4 by 6½ feet), all from 2012, based on digital photos taken in and around the suburbs of Handen, just outside of Stockholm, where Book lives. Book’s surreal compositions, in which montaged images of the rural countryside converge with those of the encroaching industrial environs, often depict phantasmal silhouettes, fragmented figures and body parts suspended against obfuscated forests and dwellings, commercial developments and otherworldly terrains. Their hallucinatory effect, enhanced by perspectival distortions achieved via a zoom lens, is at times further electrified by queasy tonal intensities and jarring paint splashes of acid green, magenta and orange over thick sweeps of acrylic. Book offers up a psychedelic brand of Romanticism, strangely akin to those moody vistas of his Scandinavian forebears-Edvard Munch, Eugène Jansson, Otto Hesselbom-and even to those of his contemporary, Per Kirkeby.
Neither rational nor idealistic, Book’s images can feel alternately menacing and elegiac. In Moono tics, for instance, the roof of a snow-covered chalet warps against a crepuscular sky of pale mauves and blues, framed by shadowy trees. Dried brown leaves adhered to dark, curvilinear brushstrokes in the foreground effect swirling winds. The contrast between the warm yellow light emanating from a window and phosphorescent moonlight undulating between deep blue-brown passages of shrubs and foliage strikes an eerie note. The setting could easily be a chilling backdrop for a David Lynch film, conjuring murderous fantasies.
In another vein, abstracted works such as Skymning och läte on beach delve into more contemplative realms of the subconscious. Here, a vertiginous surface of light ebbing over fluid infinitudes of ultramarine blue places the viewer up to the neck in the water, with suggestions of the shore at a frightening distance. Book’s liminal reveries are riveting, and deserve a greater presence on the international art scene.