Alexander Tallén

The viewer’s gaze is drawn into the vaulted room, which opens up like a chapel with a step from the blast furnace hall to the open-hearth works. Shimmering figurines stand like altarpieces, elegantly embraced by the green backdrop of the archway. Well inside, the rusted walls envelop and a tranquility descends. The large-scale industrial environment, room-filling artworks, even the tumultuous modern world itself are left outside. The figurines exude an atmosphere of 18th century Rococo and early 19th century Romanticism. Nature’s presence is felt through flowers, plants and tree branches. The feeling is one of idyllic peace. Colours and glazes contrast with the harsh rust of the iron. Yet, something doesn’t quite match up… The human figures in the works are all men – modern men in Western attire, nearly all of them with a similar appearance. They do not even hail from the glory days of the ironworks. They are our own contemporaries. Alexander Tallén expresses himself through the art of figurines. With meticulous accuracy, he shapes each figurine into a unique work with its own substance. Often, he serves as the model for the men, who can appear in various forms in the same work. He imbues the objects with clues to stories, which he wants the viewer to fill in. Some of the motifs convey harmony. Others reveal the tug-of-war that can occur within a human being and in their interaction with the outside world. The figurines in the old tunnel, which were once used to roll scrap iron in the softening open-hearth method, are all new creations for Avesta Art. One man bears the word “Heartbreaker” on his denim vest. Perhaps he is a man who makes hearts bleed. For today, he is finished with his work and relaxing with a cigarette, off in his own world. In another figurine are two men, as alike as twins. Here is a close relationship, filled with tenderness. Like a pietà – Mary with the dead Jesus in her arms – we see two men, one blond and one dark-haired. Perhaps it is a man from Europe who is doing his utmost to save a refugee’s life after his journey in a fragile boat over the Mediterranean. Perhaps it is Joseph, who we otherwise so seldom see mourning over his lost bonus son. Suddenly, the space around each work expands. Tallén explores issues of self-image and men’s roles, now and throughout time. With a sharp and ironic eye, he depicts men in a way that touches – and perhaps punctures – the myth of manhood. Gender stereotypes crack and splinter. As in a pastoral painting, the men are barefoot – and thereby vulnerable. Questions are raised about how we view masculinity, men’s roles and macho culture today. Alexander Tallén works in a centuries-old tradition. The figurine is just a small figure, and these have existed in cultures through the ages and across the continents. The porcelain figure came to Europe from China. From the 1700s onward, when Germans had learned the art of making porcelain, figurines were also produced in Europe. The figurine had its place as a table decoration in affluent families. It was a beautiful ornament that could also serve as a conversation starter. With mass production in the 19th century, millions of figurines flooded the market, reaching even the simpler homes of farmers and workers. Famous paintings were transformed into three-dimensional, industrially produced figurines. Today, the figurine has almost become kitsch. Tallén makes his figures by hand. There are many steps from idea and basic form – via plaster, casting of sections, shaping into a whole with the help of clay, drying, firing, glazing, painting and firing again – to a finished work of art. Everything is hand-painted with time-consuming elements such as the herringbone pattern in the man’s suit. Alexander Tallén was born in 1988 in Stockholm and received a Master’s degree from Konstfack in 2015. He is already represented at venues including the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Röhsska Museum and the Public Art Agency Sweden. He has exhibited throughout Sweden and has his studio in Stockholm.