Tom Cullberg: Record/Play

The title of this body of work speaks to artist Tom Cullberg’s sense of painting as an act of recording, but also as one of play, openness, and sense-making. What do we remember and therefore record? How does our present filter those memories or intuit kinship with other objects, images, or figures, and itself morph through those engagements? The openness of painting is the stage on which that interaction unfolds, providing a space where Cullberg tries to make sense of the malleable and constantly shifting elements of his memories of the past, understandings of the now, and imaginings of unknown future times or places.


The reference of the tape deck speaks most literally to this notion, and how it operates on different levels: it’s this ‘old’ thing that we don’t use anymore (but that anyone born before 1980 can vividly recall the feeling of – that solid pressing down of a button, the sound of the tape rolling), but whose very recollection plays with Cullberg’s interpretations of his own memories. The counter in this painting is set to 1993 – the year he came to South Africa from Sweden; if he found a tape deck with a voice recording from himself back then, how would it differ from his current narrative about that time?


The chairs, designed by Bruno Matthson, are similar to ones in Cullberg’s family home back in Sweden. In painting them, he revisits the tactile sensation of the wood and the feel of those chair against and in relation his body. At the same time, they are chairs: they exist outside of his experience, invoking a reflective space that anyone can relate to of being comfortably seated. And because there are two of them, the possibility of communication (a theme he frequents, through his painting of books, album covers, and newspapers) hums. But the chairs are also empty, so people are there, yet not there. It's the same with the shoes: they are Cullberg’s shoes, but they also signify the presence and absence of a human. Perhaps they were left by the woman falling through what is a kind of seascape (though if they were, there was no such intention when painting either canvas).


The woman falling, like many of the human figures in Cullberg’s work, is borrowed from another image (in this case, a local newspaper). Painting her repeatedly in different contexts, her form has become part of his painterly language, and, in a way, the idea of her has become part of him (but also, of course, she remains not him).


This merging with subjects through the act of painting becomes another way for Cullberg to look – with everything from sympathy to criticism (The Eyes) – to make sense of the world, and to relate to the objects, memories, events, and landscapes around him. Everything is operating simultaneously on these different levels: the initial often inchoate pull of a physical form, the shape-shifting openness of its myriad interpretations, and the creation of something new – a feeling, an understanding, a perspective – that can happen in that engagement. But it’s also not complicated. It’s play, but it’s important play. You can read a lot into it, or just feel a tap of something.