Artist Nerdrum may paint in jail

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Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, convicted of tax evasion last month, may be allowed to paint in prison after all, if his last-ditch appeal to Norway’s Supreme Court fails. He just wouldn’t be allowed to sell anything he produces.

Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum normally doesn't talk to reporters, but made a rare appearance on the Scandinavian TV talk show "Skavlan" last fall and spoke to newspaper "Klassekampen" last week, about how he'd like to serve his prison sentence. PHOTO: NRK screen grab / Views and News

Nerdrum, who lost his appeal of a city court tax evasion verdict on June 27, told newspaper Klassekampen late last week that he had written a letter to Norwegian prison authorities asking that he be allowed to serve his prison term from his home outside Stavern, a coastal community in Vestfold County, about a two-hour drive south of Oslo.

“I think it’s a better idea that I can stand here (at home) and paint with a foot link (that would prevent him from leaving the property) instead of wasting time in a prison playing cards,” Nerdrum told Klassekampen.

In his letter, written in the form of a poem, Nerdrum wrote that if he’s allowed to serve his two-year and 10-month sentence at home, he would paint a large six- by four-meter painting called Fengselene åpnes (The prisons open), that he would give as a gift to the Norwegian state.

It’s highly unlikely his request will be granted, because Norwegian law only allows confinement at home for those with prison sentences of four months or less. Prison authorities do appear willing to make Nerdrum as comfortable as possible, though, likely in a minimum security facility and with special permission to keep painting.

“An artist like Nerdrum mustn’t be destroyed,” said Bjørn Krogsrud, director of the prison authority called Kriminalomsorgen (literally, “criminal care”) for the area where Nerdrum has his home. Until Nerdrum’s trial began, he’d been living at another home in France.

‘Great, national artist’
Krogsrud told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend that he considers Nerdrum “a great, national artist,” and said that “we must work properly” with him.

“I don’t think we will prevent him from painting,” Krogsrud said, referring to reports of an initial prohibition on him painting because convicts aren’t allowed to pursue their livelihood from prison. “It’s the sales revenues that would be a problem,” Krogsrud added. “We can’t provide the opportunity to operate a business from the inside. But this is something we will evaluate carefully.”

Nerdrum, meanwhile, may also be offered a spot at a prison near his home in Vestfold. “In general terms, it would be possible for a convict with this kind of infraction (tax evasion) to be considered for serving time in an open prison in the person’s home area,” Krogsrud said.

“The main punishment is the removal of his freedom,” he added. “Beyond that, our goal isn’t to break down people, but to build them up. We never punish by taking away a hobby, for example, from creative people.”

In Nerdrum’s case, his painting is much more than a hobby, “so that’s the nut we have to crack,” Krogsrud said.

Nerdrum’s defense attorney Pål Berg was clearly frustrated over the article in Klassekampen and that Nerdrum gave an interview. “We are appealing (to Norway’s Supreme Court) to get him freed, so there shouldn’t be any talk about how he might serve a prison term,” Berg told Aftenposten. “This is still a tax dispute that will be evaluated in October.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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