Vanessa Baird: Endings to a story that had no beginning


Vanessa Baird: Endings to a story that had no beginning
1 March – 9 May 2021

Press viewings by appointment, please contact: [email protected]

Drawing Room is pleased to announce the first UK survey of renowned Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird. The exhibition will open virtually on 1 March, with plans for a physical opening once current restrictions lift.

Vanessa Baird’s work is story telling of a kind that is both potently provocative and emphatically individual. Her charged creations, made in pastel and watercolour, range from room-size murals to intimate self-portraits and draw on a wide range of references from her own lived experiences, as well as from Scandinavian folklore and literature. This exhibition, the artist’s first solo survey in the UK, introduces Baird’s world through a selection of her extraordinary drawings, made over the last two years, and includes an immense wall-size seascape created for the show. 

A key series of works, entitled There’s no place like home, 2019-20, is centred on the Oslo house that she grew up in and still inhabits with her three teenage children and elderly mother, for whom she acts as carer. Through vivid images of herself and her family, Baird captures the states of exhaustion, boredom and frustration that accompany the everyday tasks of looking after a household, conjuring up the chaotic detritus of domestic life in a kaleidoscope of provocatively raw imagery: her ever-present mother is seen lying ghost-like in bed; half-dressed teenagers, attached to their mobiles, slump at the table. The artist portrays herself with honest vulnerability, as both a mother, daughter and carer, explicitly describing the taboo subjects of intimate bodily functions and the ageing female body. Her work is underpinned by a dark sense of humour, with scenes made more menacing by Baird’s use of pictorial foreshortening and angled perspectives; her figures are compressed into claustrophobic spaces that draw the viewer unavoidably into nightmarish psychodramas. 

A prolific artist, Baird often makes work on a scale that is physically demanding. Central to this exhibition is a mammoth drawing, A little red coat, a pair of beautiful blue trousers and a green umbrella lost at sea, 2020, twelve paper scrolls that wrap the gallery walls, stretching four meters in height and more than 14 meters across. Made for this exhibition, it evokes Japanese ink scrolls of mountains and seascapes; her gestural handling of watercolour and fluidly drawn line owes something to Hokusai, an artist she admires. Whilst Baird’s work is rooted in the autobiographical, here her scope widens: disturbing scenes of figures drowning in the waves might be informed by Norwegian folklore, pervaded by legends of the sea, as well as referencing international political issues such as the European refugee crisis. Equally, the sea might represent personal psychological tumult, a feeling of being swept away or overwhelmed. Baird has never shied away from tackling difficult and controversial subjects in her work and these ambiguous images can be read as being both candid and confrontational. 

Also included in the exhibition is Red Herring Prednisolon ciclosporin, 2014-18, a series of intimate self-portraits in watercolour, made over a period of four years whilst the artist was being treated for a chronic illness. These works beautifully communicate the extreme physical and emotional effects the medication had on her: her bloated face and bleary eyes, expressing anguish and pain, stare out at us from her fiercely red and raw face, whilst in another portrait, bleached of colour, her features ebb away into a kind of miasma. Every title records the different medication and precise dosage that caused these unpleasant side effects, giving this powerfully unsettling series a scientific air. Baird’s highly personal responses to themes around the female body – from motherhood, to illness, to ageing – continues a curatorial focus on the body and bodily experience threaded throughout Drawing Room’s programme for 2020–21; she handles these themes in a uniquely unforgettable and searingly provocative manner, which we are thrilled to be sharing with a UK audience for the first time. 

This exhibition is co-curated by Mary Doyle and Gillian Fox.

For further press information and high-res images please contact:
George Bray
[email protected]


About the artist

Vanessa Baird (b. 1963, Oslo) lives and works in Oslo. She is a winner of the prestigious Lorck Schive Art Award (2015), Norway’s most prominent award for artists living and working in Norway. She is a collaborator of acclaimed Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård, illustrating his novel, Om høsten (Autumn) in 2015. Together with colleague Mette Hellenes, Baird also runs the independent press Brunt hull. In November 2017, Baird opened the solo exhibition You are something else at Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, which became one of the institutions most visited exhibitions and was hailed by critics and curators as one of the most important in recent Norwegian art history. 

Baird was educated at the National Academy of Arts, Oslo, Norway, and the Royal College of Art, London. Solo exhibitions include: The National Museum of Art, Oslo; Göteborg Konstmuseum, Gotehnburg; Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kristiansand; Stenersenmuseet, Oslo and Lillehammer Kunstmuseum, Lillehammer. She has published three books: Red Herring (2016), Brothers Grimm’s, Ulven og Reven, (2013), and You can’t keep a good rabbit down (2009), all on No Comprendo Press, Oslo. Baird is represented in key public collections and with several permanent commissions in public spaces; among others at Sentralen in Oslo (2016) and the new governmental quarters in Oslo (2010-2013). Recent solo exhibitions include:  Lorck Schive Art Award Trondheim (2015), Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo (2017), OSL contemporary, Oslo (2018), KODE in Bergen (2019), and she was part of the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2019 in Kerala, India, curated by Anita Dube.

About Drawing Room

Drawing Room is a not-for-profit gallery, library, shop and online resource that is dedicated to opening up the world of contemporary drawing to everyone. It is internationally renowned for stimulating debate around the nature and purpose of drawing today. Through free exhibitions, artist talks, practical workshops and a unique library, it nurtures the production and promotes the understanding of drawing. Drawing Room is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and collaborates with institutions to expand research, produce publications and tour its exhibitions.

Vanessa BairdRubislaw GirlCourtesy the artist and OSL