Carol Archer: thoughts on the sublime

Carol Archer Profile pictureMaking art at Messen Kunstnarhuset impressed on me the wonders of light, colour and nature in this remarkable part of the world. The sky exerted a magnetic attraction on me and I found myself noting its changing colour throughout the days and nights I spent there, particularly as the days lengthened between mid-June (when I arrived) and the time of the summer solstice.

I loved the sustained twilight and the deep blues of the midsummer night sky.

Day sky Messen midsummer14

Night skyMessenmidsummer14

Although I’ve taught students about Romantic painting for years, it was my stay on Hardanger fjord that really deepened my understanding of the notion of the sublime. Such environments are humbling because of the inescapable knowledge that one’s own efforts – and one’s very being – cannot but be puny and transient by comparison.

During my stay at Messen I was lucky to see an exhibition in nearby Oystese of Norwegian Romantic Painting, including many wonderful works portraying the Hardanger fjord.  It is true, I think, that the sublime environment stirs one’s creative impulses – even if, like me, the portrayal of the grandeur of that environment is not the subject of one’s work. Although I did some studies of the view of the fjord from my studio window and the Folgefonna glacier, my own work at Messen was centred on smaller wonders: the local trees and their leaves and the stones at the nearby fjord beach.

two tree studies Messen 14

Tree studies, watercolour on handmade paper, 22 x 15 cm.

Tree study messen july14

Tree study, oil on handmade paper, 22 x 15 cm.



Plantand stonestudies14 Messen

An Ålvik Tree and Stone Register, ink and watercolour on paper in a Chinese folding book approximately 10 x 25cm in size.

Carol stayed for 2 months in Messen, last summer, together with the artist and writer Kit Kelen.

Kit Kelen

20140719_172406Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a well known Australian poet, scholar and visual artist, and Professor of English at the University of Macau, where he has taught Creative Writing and Literature for the last fourteen years. Volumes of his poetry have been published in Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Filipino languages. Japanese and Indonesian editions are currently in preparation

Kit Kelen stayed for 2 months in Messen, last summer, together with the artist Carol Archer.


Here are some of his poems and paintings created during his residence in Messen.


Boulders of Ålvik

must each have once tumbled into position
a river of ice ground these pebbles out
toys tall gods have tossed aside

now slugs cross fat with the season of life
and bitumen creeks pass

boulders of Ålvik each mossed to its spot
are alive with the place
snow knows them – and the running stream

they are bracken swept, fern beset
beside steep uphill climb
flowers have said summer over them

it’s here gulls perch to sing a sea
they fish fjord and balance boulders
here in my antipodes

runes in them are deeper than reading

in their few dry moments someone sat
saw turf roofs rise and crooked chimneys
long ships launch, clouds slant

carpet of needles then snow’s quilt
white as winter’s black all night

the lapping’s all below
and there’s more foliage sidling up
or tucking under lichen

once in a while a tree will try one
suggesting soil enough
that’s something like a royal reign

lightning strikes a dynasty
or nations fall and rise
there is a core of knowing though
the ice will come again


tree, rock, cloud and me

trees become rocks
and rocks turn tree
too slow to grow

slugs will be roots
if they look too hard

leaves blow off
a breeze

clouds stand idly
they are the slowest
thing in the sky

and you’ll
find yourself


tre, stein, skyer og meg

(Nynosk translation by Bjørn Otto Walevik)

tre vert stein
og stein vert tre
veks for seint sneglar

vert til røter
viss dei ser for hardt

blad bles av
ein bris

uverksame skyer

tingen på himmelen

og du vil
deg sjølv borte


on such a day

on the day
you hang your bedding out the window
and a towel to dry on top
air the stairs with a wide open door

on such a day
your hear hoses
passing gardens

old folk sit on a bench
to soak a dry wall
make petrichor

with purposeful stride
the one with the rake – leaf warrior
and even that’s painted bright

bicycle goes by with a nod
it’s the age of the helmet yet

on such a day
yes there are clouds
they’re thinking about it

there’s a sun
reluctant to set
afternoon’s evening
and evening goes on all night

it is the day of porpoises passing
not so ostentatious though
one fin at a time
turn by like a wheel

it’s glass
and the kraken
lies deeper than thought

blue tractor gets socks wet
bringing home the boat

oak and birch and aspen
pine and fir and spruce
each of them older than dreaming
still to learn their names

a toilet grows flowers
on the front lawn
a bicycle too

on such a day
one goes hunting for lines
they’re found
and out in the open

there’s mowing the lawn
and addressing one’s flowers

they bare their chests
who whisper engines
and with whom engines speak

moss has a thirst
on such a day
man washes his rock
and after, beer
as prescribed

it is true I’m pursued
by what isn’t a bee
by what I’d call a march fly
and I’d be wrong

on such a day
it’s the idea of dinner
draws indoors

the book hasn’t been written
to hold all one could do
on just such a day

I wonder if anyone can remember
precisely when peace was declared


at Messen

snow stands for true mountains
a midsummer sentry

a smoky man tends barbeque
such are the voices of the picnic garden
a fjord is part of the picture too

gathered like wildflowers
we ourselves are a summer

pick cherries every ripening day

the rain hasn’t come yet
but here we are,
over the rainbow
already planning for after


at Messen
rumble is the road
or thunder
men’s laughter
the factory’s dinner going down
the kraken waking
earth gives a shake
a train but very far
nobody knows what


it’s the gods in everything
like to make us guess
a crow says no, flies off
and everything’s still here

Workshops til ungdomsskule i Messen

Several Ungdomsskule from Hardanger, were visiting Messen, the last few months. Guest artists and local artists gave workshops to the pupils.

The workshops given until now:

Gökçen Dilek Acay (Turkey) – Soundeffect for film workshop

Nicolas Norris (USA) – drawing with poetry workshop

Hans Pulles (The Netherlands) – Folding 3D form workshop

Ross Donlon (Australia) – Poetry workshop


Busy folding at Hans workshop

Busy folding at Hans workshop


Results folding workshop

At the Poetry workshop of Ross Donlon

At the Poetry workshop of Ross Donlon


Translating the poem into nynorsk