Ole Ahlberg (born 1949) is a Danish painter with a growing international audience. His painting has undergone a distinct development during the last few years. And his road to fame has involved using Hergé's famous comic book characters such as Tintin and Haddock in a new artistic context. Tintin meets Ole Ahlberg's femmes fatales! Erotic? You bet!
The Danish artist, Ole Ahlberg, was sued by Moulinsart (Tintin’s copyright holders), for using images of Tintin and the Thompson Twins in his art. They lost. This dates back to 2001, when the artist was opening a show of his art in Brussels with the wife of the Danish prime minister when Moulinsart’s lawyers demanded the offending images be removed. Ahlberg refused and the case went to court where the Judge found in the artists favour on the grounds that parody is allowable under Belgian and international copyright law.
Ole Ahlberg's early paintings were formed by the maxim “a picture in a picture in a picture”, like a set of Chinese boxes. But now there is only one central picture surface, one central scene where the action takes place. Thus Ole Ahlberg has abandoned his subtle illusionism in favor of a more “normal” painting. This hasn’t made his pictures any less enigmatic or ambiguous as he concurrently began making use of a one-color background, black or dark blue, like many of the Dutch Baroque still life artists employed. A background that appears even more inscrutable and mysterious in relation to the brightly illuminated objects in the foreground.
Ole Ahlberg has created a universe where the baroque vanitas symbols, such as peeled lemons, hourglasses, unlit candles, and skulls, have been replaced by a more contemporary repertoire. The most obvious difference being between things and people from the “real” world contra comic strip characters. His many scantily-clad women, swans, porcelain objects, and clouds are painted in a very convincing life-like manner while the comic strip characters, mainly taken from Hergés’ Tintin, are painted with a clearly defined outline that makes them appear flat on the canvas. A difference that is almost tangible.
If Ole Ahlberg’s principles of composition have changed, his motifs have essentially stayed the same: it is mostly still about eroticism. Being a very sophisticated artist, he never allows the pictures to become too lewd or carnal in nature, but somehow he finds a way to get the viewer, to a great extent, to create the suggestive stories. Eroticism is usually also just a pretext for political commentary and a deeper epistemological investigation. In this respect Ole Ahlberg prefers the black humor and mysteriousness of Magritte than the theatricality and surrealism of Dalí.
If the toys Ole Ahlberg often places in his pictures are a solid symbol of innocence, then it’s a different matter when it comes to the figure of Tintin, who has become a kind of trademark for the artist. For Tintin is a completely fictitious person. Plus he’s a very special type, one where you don’t find even an inkling of a love life in any of the comics. With the exception of the opera-singing, bosomy Milanese nightingale, Bianca Castafiore, women are by and large missing from Tintin’s universe. Even the heavily drinking and constantly cursing Captain Haddock shies terrifyingly away from Castafiore’s advances, which are more a publicity stunt than a real declaration of love. Ole Ahlberg places this quite unusually virtuous comic strip figure in situations where he is confronted with very corporeal and scantily clad earthy women. With great wonder, or should we say shock, Tintin stares at the forbidden fruit. His facial expressions, often taken from episodes in actual comics, reveal that all this eroticism is completely alien to him. As though it came from another planet. Ole Ahlberg, leaving no room for doubt, emphasizes that Tintin is a fictitious person by depicting him using Herges’ sharp, black contours in contrast to the rest of the paintings clair obscure.
It is, however, also interesting that eroticism in Ole Ahlberg’s paintings is rarely spelled out for you. In one of the best Tintin paintings we see the young journalist incredulously regarding a red space rocket (from “Destination Moon”) placed under the skirt of a beautiful woman. Ole Ahlberg only presents us with a gaping Tintin, a rocket, and a woman’s lower body, thus enticing the observer to become a co-creator by conjuring up the erotic exploit from his/her own subconscious. Here the artist draws on the age-old truth that the most sex-fixated people on earth are the puritans, who can find sexual references in even the most innocent motifs. All because they refuse to acknowledge their own sexual urges. And for exactly that reason Ole Ahlberg has the whole Tintin-group after him with an army of lawyers trying to figure out a way to get the better of this impertinent Dane who is so impudent as to exercise his freedom of artistic expression. (Partly from a presentation written by Tom Jørgensen)