Artist Nerdrum breaks his silence

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Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, who faces two years in prison for tax evasion, succeeded in attracting lots of publicity when he ended a 10-year boycott of local media this week. Interviews with Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and talk show host Fredrik Skavlan coincided with the opening of a new exhibition in Sollentuna, just north of Stockholm.

Odd Nerdrum during his appearance on Fredrik Skavlan's talk show on SVT and NRK Friday night. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

The timing was thus convenient for stirring up even more interest around Nerdrum, who appeared on Skavlan’s show wearing one of his customary full-length tunics. Nerdrum is known for nurturing eccentricities and answered “yes” when Skavlan asked him if he’s paranoid. “And it’s very serious,” he said.

He also said he felt threatened, explaining why he felt a need to bring his 16-year-old son with him onto the set of Skavlan’s popular talk show Friday night, a joint production between Sveriges Television and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The show was taped in Stockholm, which is why Nerdrum finally agreed to allow himself to be interviewed by a Norwegian journalist. He hasn’t sat for interviews in Norway since 2002, when he got angry with local press coverage.

Artist Odd Nerdrum said he felt "threatened" and answered "yes" when Skavlan asked whether he was paranoid. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

The Norwegian authorities are also out to get him, to hear Nerdrum tell it. “They have been out after me since I was 20 years old,” he said. While he wasn’t keen to talk about his recent tax evasion conviction with the Swedish newspaper, Skavlan pressed him on it and Nerdrum was scathing in his evaluation of Norwegian tax authorities.

“They find a person and they go after you for years,” he said, claiming the tax inspectors don’t give up until they can press charges. “They are gruesome. Many people have been destroyed by them.”

Nerdrum said he has responded to the state’s lengthy tax probe and prosecution by working intensively, creating a series of new paintings of mistreated animals. His new exhibition at Edsvik Konsthall is entitled Skatt og mishandlede dyr (Tax and abused animals). Nerdrum feels abused himself.

“Ever since I debuted as a 20-year-old, Norway has been after me, just because I’m not A4 (conventional), because I’m not a member of the Labour Party, because I’m middle-aged and grey-haired, what do I know?” he told Skavlan. He complained that most other artists in Norway get “a St Olav” (a royal decoration). “I got no St Olav, but two years in prison,” Nerdrum said.

But, he added to laughter from the studio audience, “you should suffer a bit to be a real man.”

Nerdrum called himself an “artistic political prisoner” but he’s appealed his sentence. If his appeal fails, his friend, author and former bank robber Gregory David Roberts wants to serve Nerdrum’s jail time for him. Roberts, also appearing on Skavlan’s show, has written a letter to Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget asking to serve in “maestro Nerdrum’s” place.

“I’m saying we shouldn’t put a man like this in prison,” Roberts said, adding that he refuses to believe Nerdrum has done anything wrong. If the jail term holds, though, Norway should “find a more creative way to punish him. Ask him to teach others how to paint!” Nerdrum, he said, could be destroyed by the experience of being in prison, where he likely won’t be allowed to paint.

Roberts contends prisons are meant to protect society from criminals and that Nerdrum poses no danger to anyone. When Skavlan asked Nerdrum directly if he thinks he’s above the law and shouldn’t have to serve jail time, Nerdrum avoided answering. He did claim, however, that he thinks his sentence is harder than others with similar convictions.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), meanwhile, reported on Friday that since Norwegian officials haven’t accepted Nerdrum’s notice that he’s moved to France, Nerdrum and his wife are being forced to sell their rural estate at Stavern on Norway’s southern coast. “They can’t hold real estate if they’re not paying tax to Norway,” said real estate broker Thomas Østmo. The asking price for the estate: NOK 22 million (USD 4 million).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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