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Queen Sonja makes art with Magne Furuholmen. Photo: Tom A Kolsstad
Queen Sonja makes art with Magne Furuholmen. Photo: Tom A Kolsstad

Meet Queen Sonja of Norway

Queen Sonja of Norway has, through her art foundation, become a champion of young artists. She is also becoming a respected graphic artist herself and is about to open her latest exhibition with Norwegian musician and visual artist Magne Furuholmen.

HM Queen Sonja of Norway

Age: 79
Born: Oslo
Career: Started exhibiting as an artist in 2011

In 2006, during a trip to Svalbard, Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway was asked to enter a dark cave beneath the ice. A keen amateur photographer with a passion for anything nature-related, the Queen went into the cave smiling; as if she had foreseen the impact it would have on her life. Down there, the flash from her camera exposed the ice and revealed a beauty and detail that would otherwise have been concealed.

“The pictures made quite an impression on me,” the Queen says. “And for a while, I thought about what to do with them. A few years later, I began to use the pictures as an inspiration for my graphic art and I started creating abstract images of the ice through printmaking. And I loved it.”

Queen Sonja’s work is becoming much more experimental. Photo: Tom A. Kolsstad

Printmaking involves various techniques for making images, normally on paper, with a press machine. It is a discipline that requires skill, patience and training. So when Queen Sonja began to study printmaking, she sought guidance from her close friends and acclaimed Norwegian artists Ørnulf Opdahl and the late Kjell Nupen.

The established artists were so impressed with the results of the Queen’s printmaking that they began collaborating with her on works that would form the basis of a successful landscape-themed exhibition called Three Journeys – Three Landscapes.

The collaboration between the Queen and the two artists also acted as the inspiration for the Queen to establish an award for young artists.

“This was something that I had wanted to do for a long time,” she says. “To create an award to help the young and give them an opportunity to do something that they always wanted to, but could not afford to by themselves. The encouragement of Ørnulf and Kjell was the motivation I needed to get things started. They liked the idea of the award and we agreed to use the profits from our exhibition to make this dream come true.”

The H.M. Queen Sonja Art Foundation was established in 2011 with the aim of generating interest in and promoting the development of printmaking and graphic techniques. The Queen Sonja Print Award (QSPA) was established at the same time with the purpose of encouraging and boosting young artists.

Photo: Tom A. Kolsstad

Today, Queen Sonja wears the logo of the award, a pin shaped as a circle balancing on a straight line, proudly and close to her heart. And she is currently working hard on yet another exhibition, collaborating this time with long-time friend and colleague Magne Furuholmen.

Magne Furuholmen

Age: 53
Born: Oslo
Career: Musician, songwriter and visual artist  

“The Queen and I met about thirteen years ago at one of my exhibitions,” Furuholmen says. “I found her curiosity inspiring. She is dedicated in ways I rarely see in others, with an elastic and inquisitive mind. It was her curiosity that formed the basis of our artistic relationship.”

Furuholmen is perhaps best known as Mags, the keyboard player and co-songwriter of Norwegian pop sensation A-Ha. But he is also a visual artist and has held numerous solo exhibitions across Europe. He is a board member of the QSPA, and like the Queen, was tutored by the late Kjell Nupen.

Magne Furu­holmen works on pieces that will feature in his joint exhibition with Queen Sonja. Photo: Tom A. Kolsstad

Despite the long friendship between the Queen and Furuholmen and his involvement with the QSPA, their artistic collaboration only started last year when they both attended an art workshop in New York. They soon found that they were challenging each other and feeding off of each other’s ideas and creating a common energy. This soon led to the idea of having a joint exhibition based on two worlds colliding into one.

The title of this exhibition, Texture, refers to the two artists’ respective sources of inspiration: Furuholmen’s work with language and text, and the Queen’s deep fascination for nature. The exhibition’s tagline is Text + Nature = Texture.

Photo: Tom A. Kolsstad

Describing the process of collaborating with Furuholmen, the Queen says, “I really appreciated the impulsiveness and the intuition. To not quite know what it was going to look like, but just telling yourself that you have to keep at it, go on. Not knowing what was wrong or what was right.” Furuholmen adds, “This project demonstrates Her Majesty as a much more free and experimental artist than before.” Photo: Tom A. KolsstadFuruholmen admires the Queen’s youthful enthusiasm and genuinely respects her dedication to art, especially given her position as queen.

“Her energy and her experience as a visual artist and printmaker allow me to relate to her as an artistic colleague, and not just a queen,” he says. “It takes courage to do this in her position. She does not have to expose her art to public scrutiny, and could have just kept doing it as a hobby. The fact that she chooses to hold exhibitions and carry out projects time and again only testifies to her genuine passion and fearless stubbornness, which in my eyes are essential characteristics for an artist.”

The Queen and Furuholmen have been working together for 18 months and have made over two hundred works together. Their exhibition, Texture, will open in Bergen on August 26, the same day as the winner of the 2016 Queen Sonja Print Award will be announced. All of the art in the exhibition is for sale and the profits will go to the Queen Sonja Art Foundation.

Queen Sonja’s visit to an icy cave in Svalbard ten years ago inspired her to develop as a graphic artist, which in turn inspired her to help other aspiring artists. One of the many impacts of this is a steady growth of interest in printmaking.

“It is just incredible that printmaking has such momentum now,” Furuholmen says. “I am not saying that the QSPA is the sole reason for it, but I think we hit a wave. Good initiatives often have an ability to coincide with trends and it is just really fun to see how all of the Queen’s work is paying off.”

Text: Andreas Francisco

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