Here are some titles of paintings by Mamma Andersson: Dead End, Dog Days, Doldrums, Humdrum Day, Lull, Last Waltz, The Lost Paradise, Dagen Efter (The Day After). If you’d never seen a single work by the artist widely considered to be the pre-eminent Swedish painter of her generation, you might still glean some sense of her work from those titles, though not of her canvases’ alkaline beauty. Andersson, who is in her late fifties and whose work swivels between landscape, intimist still life and a guarded kind of portraiture – and sometimes is all of these at once – is a maker of motionless things that nevertheless, and unmistakably, have time encoded in them.
Take Dog Days (2011), one of 58 works in her current retrospective at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, and characteristically based on a found black-and-white photograph (this one sourced via a police officer in Stockholm, where Andersson lives). It depicts a crime investigation mid-dig, replete with shovels, buckets and hazard tape; three excavators in pistachio-coloured outfits dig through the earth, one covering their face or perhaps shielding their nose from decomposition’s stink. A black blur, an artefact of Andersson reworking her canvas, erasing something, hangs centre stage, ambiguously symbolic. The image pauses us before a dark revelation, holding it perpetually and almost consolingly offstage.
The equestrians riding into the angsty, orange sky in “Holiday” (pictured), by the Swedish painter Mamma Andersson, share the same DNA as Edvard Munch’s screamer and the Romantic loners of Caspar David Friedrich, but if they had a soundtrack it might be “In My Room,” by Brian Wilson. Most of the fourteen poetic pictures in Andersson’s show "The Lost Paradise," at the Zwirner gallery (online at davidzwirner.com), are landscapes, at once specifically Nordic and timelessly placeless. But they feel interior, too—the rewards of an artist battling uncertainty alone in her studio, inventing a world. Especially striking are the portraits of trees, whose bark springs to life through Andersson’s use of a new technique: oil stick, rubbed into the painted surfaces, leaves a trace so nubby that you can practically feel it, even onscreen. Andersson is married to the artist Jockum Nordström, a fellow-Swede who also exhibits at Zwirner; listen to the couple discuss the pleasures and the struggles of shared isolation on a new episode of "Dialogues," the gallery’s terrific podcast series on the creative process, now in its third season.