Karl Ove Knausgård Interview: The Other Side of Edvard Munch


We met with the celebrated Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård, to learn about his deep fascination and admiration for painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), who struggled with personal loss and other people’s expectations to make iconographic works such as ‘The Scream’. In this video, Knausgård shows us an unknown side of Munch, while also telling a story about what creating is all about.

The Norwegian author shares how, when he saw a Munch painting for the first time at age 17, the “emotional, existential language” spoke to him instantly, and how Munch’s landscape paintings are very significant to him: “All his landscapes are so charged with emotions.” Knausgård goes to talk about the many motifs that were repeated throughout Munch’s career, one of which was that of his sister’s deathbed: “His life was very much about death when he grew up.” This very act of creating, even when it is something painful, can be a comfort in itself, Knausgård finds, adding that this also goes for writing. Munch’s way of connecting with the world, he continues, was painting: “You can use it to kind of confront the world and confront yourself. But you can also use it to hide from it.” Munch did both. In continuation of this, Knausgård feels that the “brave thing he did was to confront all of that inner turmoil that he had in his paintings as he did in the 1890s when he was rather young.” At this time, Munch was drinking heavily, suffered from paranoia, and had a hard time attaching himself to women – because that meant risking losing them. Ultimately, Munch had a complete breakdown and was submitted to an institution in Copenhagen for an extended period. Getting out, Knausgård observes, Munch started looking outward rather than inward in his paintings.

“If you want to get to what’s going on, then you need a form that’s not fixed. And if you try to do that you have to break down. That was what Munch was doing – he broke things down.” Knausgård also talks about creativity and form, and how Munch at a certain point got stuck in the past and in a style: “He got stuck in Munch.” This leads Knausgård on to artists and control: “In art, you have to let go somehow. That’s where the braveness comes in.”

Karl Ove Knausgård (b. 1968) is a Norwegian author, internationally recognized for his prizewinning novel ‘My Struggle’. The novel, in which the author describes his own life, is in six volumes spanning over 3,000 pages. He is also the author of a four-volume series following the seasons – ‘On Spring’, ‘On Summer’, ‘On Fall’ and ‘On Winter’ (2015-16), ‘Inadvertent (Why I Write) (2018), and ‘So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch’ (2019). Knausgård is the recipient of several prestigious prizes including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is a Norwegian painter and one of the most important artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Munch was part of the Symbolist movement in the 1890s, and a pioneer of Expressionism. Among his most iconic paintings are ‘The Scream’ and ‘The Sick Child’.

Karl Ove Knausgård was interviewed by Christian Lund at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf in connection with the exhibition ‘Edvard Munch’, curated by Karl Ove Knausgård, in November 2019. The exhibition features approximately 140 works – paintings, prints and sculptures – that have rarely if ever been exhibited. For more see: http://www.kunstsammlung.de/en/edvard-munch.html

Camera: Jakob Solbakken

Edited by Klaus Elmer

Produced by Christian Lund

Cover photo: A cropped version of ‘Self-portrait’ (1888) by Edvard Munch

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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